How To Change Your Perspective On Death

There are only 2 ways we can die, and neither one of them is good. I’ll be honest, this one will take a lot of self-awareness. A major way we can die is to become ill or injured. Even if you aren’t, if you get injured while biking, a car will wreck you and cause an accident that will kill you. We’re all aware of what’s possible, so we have to have a positive outlook to take action.

There are only 2 ways we can die. One is by suicide, which is awful. The other is being killed by a cancer or another preventable illness. To avoid these 2 scenarios, we have to choose our words and our actions more carefully. And while that may take more self-awareness and time, it also makes a world of difference in our quality of life.

There are only 2 ways we can die, and I hate how that phrase sounds. I have decided on a new approach to death, and I’m excited to start it tonight. My friend and colleague Jim Toth is in town, and he asked me to present on the impact of death on the human personality. I have a friend who died of a medical illness, which I have shared with you in the past. His name is Michael Shainth. He died without leaving a letter, a will, or a testament. He didn’t want a lot of things to happen after his death and was very resistant to the idea of becoming a public figure. He was quite secretive in his last months since I don’t think most of his friends knew he was ill, and he did not want them to ask questions about his condition. He was only in the hospital about a week prior to his death so he didn’t spend any time talking to anyone about what he was experiencing and I wonder if he was even aware he was sick. His last days were so miserable, it’s difficult to say if he was even aware.

He was pretty laid-back all the way through, even with cancer and the various medical procedures he faced. In the end, all he did was go to sleep with the light on and close his eyes.

And now we turn to death. I’ve read a lot of books about death, and some of them are pretty bleak. But I’ve found many good, realistic descriptions of death. There is definitely something in all of those books (there’s a reason it’s a big part of literature), and it’s what makes people really come to terms with life. Death’s a lot of fun.

Jim Toth’s book, The End of Death (Oxford University Press, 2004) comes pretty close in describing the feeling of death. He doesn’t put it in such an obvious and dramatic way, but what he says really does make sense to me. I’ll give you the highlights.

The End of Death

Death is not inevitable. Life can be extended. The experience of death can be meaningful. One way to extend human life is to find a way to create a new human being.

The death of a loved one is difficult; that is not a conclusion we arrive at by following our own logic, but the logic of the world. In this sense, the death of a child is very different from the death of an adult. We do not know what is going to happen, but sometimes we can be comforted by knowing the event will likely help to create a new person rather than being an unproductive end to our lives.

Some philosophers, such as Alan Watts and William James (who in my mind is probably the most important modern philosopher I’ve ever read) have used the term “reincarnation” in a variety of contexts.

We may not know how to create a new person, but we can find ways to prolong life: to reduce the severity of illnesses and prolong the lives of those who cannot continue to work.