Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
Hamlet, Act I, scene 2
Death. Americans in the last part of the 20th century feared it more than anything (and we Americans are a very scared group of people). We fight it and hide from it and send all thoughts of it away from us. That is the reason there are nursing homes full of semi-conscious people awaiting death alone and uncared for. That is the reason why so many people die full of tubes, stuck in hospitals having spent six times the money on health care (yet still die) as those not dying that year.
Our lives are so out of balance. We are born in hospitals full of machines that go ping, and then we go back there to die. The idea that life is lived at home with family has been distorted, when death and birth are no longer a part of it. Our culture is built on fear, a consumer culture demands a fearful population. Unfortunately a fear based culture is a stagnant culture, and ironically our huge fear of death is killing our culture.
My only solace is that in the beginning of the 21st century some people are starting to see that death is nothing to fear. I believe more people are turning their back on the fear of death. More people should embrace it as a part of life, which it is. Most people in this country profess to be Christians. If they truly believe in their faith they have nothing to fear as they face everlasting bliss in heaven. Almost all non-Christians also have a belief in a positive afterlife. I can’t really think of any modern religion that does not support the idea of a positive afterlife (even re-incarnation beliefs hold an eventual end when one merges with God).
My biggest fear is being in a nursing home having my life propped up by drugs and injections, to eventually be taken to a hospital where hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent poking and prodding and medicating me while I am nearly senseless, only to have me die surrounded by machines that go ping in a sterile, cold hospital room a week later.
We as a people need to re-engage with life. That means letting people live and die at home. Letting people die, not fight every death to the death. After all death always wins in the end. We need to learn to balance our fights. Sometimes there is a reason to fight to live, quite often in fact. But sometimes there is not a reason to fight to live. Ironically many of us now have to fight to die or to die in a manner that we want. For example 55% of those who indicated they wanted to die at home died in a hospital. Those who want to be left in peace to die in peace have to fight a culture, legal system, and medical system geared to keep people alive at all costs.
I don’t want to die, because I am afraid of what comes next. I was afraid to graduate from high school because I was afraid of what came next, and what came next wasn’t always great, but much of it was. I personally believe that what comes after death will be much like what comes after birth, a life that is not always great but for the most part is the most wondrous experience in the universe.