Working in an environment where death is the enemy brings an interesting perspective if one takes the time to look past the obvious. I remember reading Irving Yalom who began my thinking about death anxiety. But that was years ago and I have been exposed to death many times since then. The actual death is a minor incident actually. Dying can take a lifetime however. We begin dying the day we are born in fact. Our bodies are equipped with an autonomic nervous system that includes survival reflexes. Think about apnea and crib death. We have all survived this as children. Sadly, some do not. But the point is, our bodies are equipped to fight death from day one, and we still have that same set of tools. Soon after birth, our emotion center begins to build (I imagine there was some intrauterine development too). We begin to develop fears which are protective and keep us from jumping off of high places, going toward certain people, or eating lima beans. I remember developing a fear of riding in a car with any driver who was not my father. He was a policeman, like Jim Rockford, and he had been trained to drive. My mother had no such training and was not to be trusted behind the wheel.
With these highly developed tools at our disposal, and very little if any actual exposure to death, we blithely go about living with an unconcious fear of death. In the average life, one is not exposed to death for many years, and when grandma dies it is easily explained away as old age and not anything our young bodies need to worry about. We go through normal grief and move forward. Still, our emotional center has been changed. We now have an added fear of old age. The implications are endless. Health regimines, beauty creams…our fight against age begins.
As we move into midlife, say 55-60, we accumulate more experience with death. Aging parents, maybe like myself the loss of a parent. Health crises such as cancer or autoimune diseases. The fears begin to be more blatant, but our previous level of denial about death no longer works. Still, it is a tool we try to employ as long as we can. Oil of Olay has a strong market. Our culture has few other tools to manage our death anxieties.
What if? What if our culture were to treat death as an event that is not to be feared? What if we could look at death as a part of life and that we all will experience it, so why be afraid?
Ageing would be something completely different. Imagine, losing ones hair as being a normal aspect of living. It would not be seen as one step closer to dying. Imagine living a life instead of avoiding a death. Imagine not avoiding people who are closer to death than we are comfortable with. Imagine not being afraid of aging ourselves, but recognizing the beauty of it all. Loss of functioning in old age brings dependence on others, but the truth of the matter is we were born dependent and always have been. If my car breaks, I need a mechanic. If I get a tooth absess, i need a dentist. I need farmers and plumbers and governments and lineworkers. No one is independent. Everyone is going to lose people they love. Everyone is going to die. This is life. We nead to learn how to live.