While We Learn To Live Better, Are We Also Learning How To Die?

Posted: April 17, 2019

When we live we are actually also learning to die, peacefully, without regrets or remorse. We all face death at some point in life, ours or our loved ones. If you are going through a loss, these pieces of advice may help you face death with mindfulness.

A close family member is dying. Only two months ago he went through surgery and was extirpated of an aggressive tumour from his lung. It all started with a subtle pain between his right shoulder and his chest, but he did not say a word about it; he decided on his own to take some painkillers with corticoids. When doctors found out the cause of his pain, they immediately set a date for the operation, which was very successful.

He weighed 177 pounds at that time. Today he is weighting 45 pounds less. His appetite diminished. At the beginning, even after the operation, he ate his favourite sandwich with ham and cheese fully. He did not leave any part of it. Then he left half of it, and now he looks at it and with great effort he swallows two bites. It has become very difficult for him to even chew, he does not have any appetite, he is losing pounds and energy, and this is how he got into a vicious circle.

The doctors doubt whether his weight loss is due to the effects of chemotherapy or if the cancer is still inside his body, just destroying him. Terminal cancer patients are not usually fed, because weight and appetite loss are irreversible. Maybe it is a total waste of time and energy for the patient to be fed on a drip. Anyway, during the next few days, doctors will try. If there are no changes, then hopes will almost disappear. He will live a month. Maybe two.

How do we face death? What do we do at the moment we are told we are going to die? We all know we are not immortal, we just do not know when it will be our turn to leave this Earth as we know it. Real life is never like in those films in which they pose the questions : ¨What would you do if you knew you have six more months to live?¨So the main character travels to Jamaica, or takes up some extreme sport, or even looks for old high-school friends to tell them how he has missed them and how much he loves them. Real life does not work like this.

In general when a person is told she/he is going to die, you are already too weak or either under intensive care. Everything you have wished to perform in life was not done, it is too late. So there are two questions to pose to yourself: How do we face death? And, how do we face the fact that we did not do things as we had wanted? Basically, how can we leave this life in peace?

Buddhists believe that only the body actually dies; the body is only matter and it can be reborn in another form. So, what is it inside our bodies? People call it soul, spirit, essence, God. Each one of us has his/her own truth. The soul persists, it jumps from one body to another, this is the key of reincarnation. We get tired in that circle of life after life, but we keep trying to get to Samadhi, or enlightenment.

For the great masters, living is just one step, it is a land for learning, a land to which we come throughout several lives, inside different bodies, in different times. Once we complete our learning we do not come back, because we have become free to choose where we want our soul to continue wandering to. Sooner or later we all reach enlightenment, but some may take longer.  According to Buddhism, the only real way to confront death is by having it present throughout life. We need to know that everything is impermanent, that one day we will stop existing within this form. This knowledge will help us. Learning to die will help us learn to die. If we were really conscious about death every day, then we would grasp every minute without remorse, anger, just observing how that minute passes by and enjoying it, living it. Death is part of life, as in a logical system.


Finally, my close relative died. There are tons of questions to be answered so as to be able to understand how life works and how we accept that there is an end to everything. Societies usually have a negative view of death; in funerals people cry and show great sorrow and sadness.  Some were able to say goodbye in a manner that they want, while others are left with things unsaid. It is a moment full of solemnity, silence and reflection.  So, I ask myself:

What mysterious reasons are there in a baby’s decision to be born at a specific time and day? What triggers his/her birth? Why does it occur at one time and not at another?

Likewise, what mysterious factors affect a person’s decision to die at a specific time and day? Why does it occur at one time and not at another?

My close relative died exactly as he wanted, in the arms of his wife who had been with him for 46 years. While she was hugging him, he may have felt peace, release. This is my time, he might have thought. I can’t do it any more, I want to leave remembering this sensation of love, of compassion, of care, everything we have given each other for a full 46 years. And he was gone. He breathed for the last time. His heart stopped beating, feeling the warmth of his life-long partner, his greatest friend.

Life is an ocean of questions, death is another. And here we are, among those doubts, usually unanswered. Everyone has his/her own wishes and passions. Maybe things are far easier than we think they are. The greatest fear in our lives is change, and the destruction of what we own. We fear farewells, divorces, moving, losing friends. In the long run, it is actually fear of death. We will be finally free when we are able to grasp that fear and control it. Being conscious of it will make it vanish and this alone is what prepares us to face death, believing that we did our best throughout life.

Image via Unsplash

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