I Don’t Fear Death, But…
I’m on a plane as I write this and it is a bit bumpy. A couple of drops, not very far, but enough to make my stomach float and the thought of falling from the sky pop to the fore of my mind. Whenever that happens, I remember two things: first, I’m well-insured and second, the mantra I plan on saying if/when the plane plunges into the ground, which is “I love my bunnies” (yes, despite their young-adulthood status, I still refer to them as “my bunnies”). Both of these are directed at my kids, one that ensures their financial well-being and one that is meant to encompass mine as imminent death approaches.
The foundation of this thinking is a basic premise: I don’t fear death. I’m not anxious to experience – or encounter, depending on your views on such things – it, but I don’t spend much time worrying about it, though obviously (see: this story) I do think about and plan for it. So, since I’ve got some time while the current flight is still aloft, it occurred to me I might find it interesting (to write, if not to share) this apparent lack of fear of death or the delusion that underlies it. Therefore, I interviewed myself and asked a series of questions.
Interviewer: Do you fear death?
Me: Well, first, thanks for having me on your podcast. Second, this is the only question for which I’ll make little jokes and references to being interviewed. And third, no, I don’t fear death.
Interviewer: Thanks for the first, really thanks a lot for the second, and as for the third, I’m not buying it. So let me dig in a bit. Do you fear the state of being dead?
Me: No, since I don’t believe in heaven or hell or purgatory or limbo or the planet Zenagon where the souls of dead humans go. If I’m wrong on any of those counts, then unless it is hell where I end up (which is possible), then I’ll probably be fine. Eternal oblivion obviously won’t affect my happiness during that period. So in general, I have no fear or consternation about the state of being dead.
Interviewer: Do you fear the process of dying?
Me: Yes, if it is going to be painful, be it short or long. I don’t want to suffer, but it’s also true I’ve had some physical situations that were quite painful yet did not reach a level that I associate with a “painful death.” Well, one exception as it relates to prior experiences: I would NOT want to die from an extended kidney stone attack. I suppose I have some fear of a crash of some sort where I am mangled and suffer a slow, agonizing death. Lack of oxygen, be it suffocation or drowning, creates fear in me. That period of suffering plus the knowledge that I am going to be dead at the end is what I hate. Tell me that in three minutes I will be instantly obliterated without pain or suffering and I would not fear the process (again, I wouldn’t welcome it, I just wouldn’t fear it!) – single-casualty nuclear explosion, guillotine, that sort of thing.
Interviewer: Do you fear the emotional and/or psychological pain others will feel upon your death?
Me: Some. My kids will suffer when I die, though as mentioned above I am happy that they will be taken care of financially. We’ve had about 20 years together, so their most formative phases are covered and, of course, they have been the central, singularly most important elements of my life the last 20 years. But I imagine they will miss me and our closeness. Their mom and I worked very hard to make sure they were strong and independent yet still empathetic and connected. Despite our efforts, they have grown up to be strong and independent and still empathetic and connected. So they will be fine, but I do find it unpleasant, if not fear-inducing, to think of my death’s affect on them.
I think their mom will suffer the loss as well, as we both have a long history and remain close. But she is resilient and (cough cough) will also have some financial benefit.
I expect that there will be varying degrees of feelings of loss from my immediate family (by which I mean blood relatives excluding my kids) but nothing that will significantly change anyone’s life.
As for everyone else, there will be a few faraway glances, maybe a tear here and there, several “oh, what a shame”s, but that’s about it. Nothing to cause fear on my part.
Interviewer: Do you fear the record you leave, that somehow it will be inadequate?
Me: No. Whatever I’ve accomplished or failed to accomplish, aside from my kids, will have little effect on the universe. I’ve done some good, I’ve done some bad, and I’ve missed the opportunity to do more of either (with an emphasis on the former). Every day that I’m still around is a chance to improve that record and feel better about it while I’m alive, but the goal is not to create a record for when I am gone – that’s an important distinction.
Interviewer: Related question, but subtly different – do you fear not achieving things that you had hoped to accomplish?
Me: No. I have several things that are very important to me that I want to accomplish. They are, in order of importance, in the categories of (a) continuing to raise my kids, (b) improving my writing and success in that field, and (c) making more money to further ensure my loved one’s well-being both while I’m alive and beyond. But those are things I want to accomplish while here, not things I want to have part of my record when I’m gone (see above).
Interviewer: If I offered you a billion dollars right now to have a painless death in one week (to give you time to say goodbye to loved ones), would you take it?
Me: Stupid question. Well, interesting question (sorry, I broke my second promise from the first question). No, I would not, for any amount of money. Cash is not that important. Ask me if I would accept a painless death in one week to forever eradicate cancer from the world, or to ensure eternal peace on earth, or to guarantee my kids will be healthy and happy for many decades to come (including handling the news of my death!) and the answer might be different. But you didn’t ask that and the planes about to land. Or crash. So that will have to wait for another conversation.