Death: Now comes the mystery

by Henrylito D. Tacio

THERE are two things in life which you cannot get respect: taxes and death. You can run away from taxes (as people have done) but you cannot hide from death. The Bible states so: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19).

“Even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little,” wrote American writer Robert Bolt. “And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh.”

Death is one of the subject matters which most people, particularly the old folks, fear to talk about. Euphemisms such as “passed away,” “departed,” “gone on,” and “no longer with us” replaced the word “death. In polite society, the subject of death becomes taboo.

But then, man needs to be exposed to death and dying. Carl Jung said, “The question of the meaning and worth of life never becomes more urgent or more agonizing than when we see the final breath leave a body.”

Fear of the unknown is man’s greatest fear. “Death is still a fearful, frightening happening, and the fear of death is a universal fear even if we think we have mastered it on many levels,” wrote Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in an excellent book, ‘On Death and Dying.’

Well, our failure to talk about death further intensifies our anxiety about it. In truth, all of life is lived in the light of its inevitable end. No one can make sense of life until he comes to terms with its termination.

But what is death in the first place? Charles C. Colton says: “Death is the liberator of him whom freedom cannot release, the physician of him whom medicine cannot cure, and the comforter of him whom time cannot console.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.” William Somerset Maugham notes: “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”

David Meltzer informs, “Death teaches us to live; it gives us a boundary to map our living within. Death’s hammer breaks through the mirror separating us from light.” Isaac Asimov is more direct: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”

Midrash Tanhuma equates birth and death to ships: “Why do we rejoice over a ship setting out on a journey when we know not the she may encounter on the seas? We should rejoice when the ship returns safely to the port.”

Epicurus urges: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” Francis Bacon likens death to a friend: “Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home.”

Among those so-called heroes, death is always part of their existence. The late Senator Benigno S. Aquino was assassinated because of his love for the Filipino people. “Filipinos are worth dying for?” he declared. Nathan Hale echoes: “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Sir Patrick Henry wonders: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death!”

What the difference between heroes and cowards? In the play ‘Julius Caesar,’ William Shakespeare has the leading character say: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Heywood Brown also reminds, “He who dies a thousand deaths meets the final hour with the calmness of one who approaches a well remembered door.”

During burial, we often see people crying. It is but natural; they won’t see the departing person anymore. “Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death,” explains Julie Burchill. “When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”

When it comes to death, there is no rich or poor, beauty or ugly, healthy or sickly. “The sole equality on earth is death,” penned Philip James Bailey. John James Ingalls agrees: “In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. There is neither rank nor station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave.”

But death should not be feared. Saint Paul states: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Sir Winston Churchill quips: “I am ready to meet my maker, but whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

The prolific writer John Gunther and his wife Frances lost their seventeen-year-old son to brain tumor. Their reaction to the situation was recorded in a story, ‘Death Be Not Proud.’ Frances wrote: “Death always brings one suddenly face to face with life. Nothing, not even the birth of one’s child, brings one so close to life as death… It raises all the infinite questions, each answer ending in another question. What is the meaning of life? What are the relations between things; life and death? … man, men, and God?”

She added: “To me, it means loving life more, being more aware of life, of one’s fellow human beings, of the earth… It means caring more and more about people, at home and abroad, all over the earth. It means caring about God.”

Bertrand Russell reminds: “To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.” — ###

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