I was walking down a busy London street the other night. People were pushing past each other, in a rush to get home or to the bar. The road, packed with cars and taxis honking their horns in the congested traffic that surrounds central London twenty-four hours a day. I imagine this to be much the same scene in any city, anywhere in the world. A certain sight caught my attention; there were two police officers and a paramedic standing over somebody laying on the floor. A white sheet covered the person; the only thing visible was a pair of trainers motionlessly poking out the bottom of the sheet. It took me a few moments to understand what the scene in front of me meant: the person under the sheet had died. It was one of those rare moments when the finite nature of life suddenly hit me, a stark reminder of the inevitably of my own fate. The contrast of the busy street, teaming with life, and the scene unfolding in front of me seemed particularly poignant.
Death is a subject that, as a society, we avoid talking about. We go to great lengths to distance ourselves from the anxiety of talking, or even thinking, about it. It is something that is kept far away from our consciousness. If we don’t think about it, it can’t affect us. Right? Unfortunately, death is fundamental to life, part of the eternal circle of everything that has (and ever will) exist.
Death does not have to be a subject that we approach with fear and anxiety. The idea of an afterlife is a key component to the majority of the world’s religions, many people believing that this life is purely in preparation for the next. Religious or spiritual beliefs can aid in the understanding and even appreciation of death.
However many people, myself included, do not believe in an afterlife; when you die you die and that’s it. Equally, this mind-set does not mean that the concept of death has to be approached with dread. Death is non-existence. A popular concept identifies that the period before one is born is also non-existence. Dying is therefore simply the returning to this state, not something to be scared of just the natural process of life returning to its original form.
The death of a loved one is hugely painful. Although many have tried to conceptualise it as such, bereavement is not a linear process. People experience the death of a loved one in a very individualistic way. The way one person mourns can be vastly different from how another person mourns. This can cause misunderstandings and further emotional pain between family and friends. There is no ‘right way’ to grieve. It is important to identify and accept the way you mourn as well as to respect that other people may mourn differently from you and that this is OK. Bereavement can be both a beautiful and extremely painful experience. The remembering of somebody important to you and the times you shared can be a uniquely joyous sensation. Equally, the experience of vast amounts of pain reminds us of what it means to be human.
In conclusion, death does not have to be an unspoken phenomenon, a subject that is edged around and whispered about in metaphors. By having an open and honest conversation about death, both the thought of our own passing and the heartbreak of losing a loved one, we may narrow our anxiety. Having a public awareness of mourning and the concept of death is vitally important to the mental wellbeing of future generations. By encouraging talk and normalising this subject, we will not only teach our children about life, we will also help them to live in a full and meaningful way.