Facing Mortality

Perhaps because of the Covid virus, it seems that I am having more conversations than ever with people about death. Unfortunately, there was no course in graduate school that taught me what to say about this. But over the years, I have developed some ways to approach this, without pretending to know the answer myself (though I have some beliefs). Perhaps some of these ideas will be helpful to you.

The first thing I do is to ask about any beliefs people have that help with this.

This can be very useful, if you still find these beliefs credible. Many people, however, no longer have such beliefs available to them. So, then what?

The second thing I do is to offer some exercises to help people look into this question in a personal way. This often involves some form of meditation or mild hypnosis to bring people in contact with their own inner wisdom. This being more direct, it is helpful to many people.

A third kind of approach is to ask people to consider how they can choose to relate to the fact of our mortality, without necessarily ascribing to any metaphysical assertion. Along these lines, and whatever else we believe, death teaches us that life, at least at one level, is limited. At this level, death teaches us to avoid taking life for granted. Even if today is just an “ordinary” work day, it will not come again. It is unique and unrepeatable. We need to find a way to appreciate even the every-day things. We can also learn to appreciate ourselves and others more deeply, recognizing that we are not forever. Facing mortality links us in a kind of community in the sense that we are all in this situation together. Since we are together, why not be kind? Why not engage fully with life? Why not aspire to make our lives a work of art, to live well and deeply?

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