Grappling with Death

A friend has been dealing with a spate of deaths in her life, and she’s trying to understand the purpose of them. I hope she succeeds. Death is so very hard to deal with, and the worst part is the seeming senselessness of it. I’ve been grappling with the subject for more than two years now, ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I haven’t a clue what the purpose of death is. Well, of course, I understand the purpose on a global scale — the species needs to be constantly revitalized — but on a more personal scale, what is the purpose of these deaths? Of any death?

I know why my life mate had to die — his body was destroyed by an invading army of malignant cells, and he could no longer function — but is there any purpose to his death?

There certainly isn’t any purpose for me. I thought I’d feel free once I no longer had to live under the constraints of his illness, and maybe someday I will feel free, but for now, I’m lonely, sad, angry at times, and miss him always. Perhaps his death is a growth experience for me, but if he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have needed to grow in this particular direction. And anyway, his death is way to big a price to pay for something so paltry.

Was there a purpose for him other than to be done with his suffering? This leads me to the equally unanswerable question of why he had to suffer in the first place. Who chose for him to suffer? He sure as heck didn’t — he did everything he could to live a healthy life, but pain dogged him all his years. (I’m sorry, but if your belief system suggests that we choose our pain, I don’t want to hear about it.)

Even if there is a purpose to death, one that we are ill equipped to understand, who chooses who gets to live and who has to die (or is it better phrased, “who gets to die and who has to live?”). Is there a moving finger writing our deaths, or is it blind chance? Blind chance doesn’t seem to be any way to run a universe, but what do I know? I don’t even know how to run something as commonplace as a car. I can drive, but making the car run when something goes wrong is beyond me.

Maybe someday my friend and I will be able to understand the purpose of death, but I doubt it, at least not while we are alive. (I just realized — every time I write about some facet of death, I post it under the category of life. I wonder if there is a clue in that.)

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14 Responses to “Grappling with Death”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I think looking at the purpose of life is the way to go. We make the best of the time we have however long or short that time might be. It has been said that death defines life because it creates a limit to it. Meanwhile we are best just getting on with stuff.

  2. sandy Says:

    When I was a child some adults called me an “old soul” and when I was ten years old, my best friend’s father introduced me to the work of Edgar Cayce. Reincarnation did make sense to me and I finally found the answer to the question that had plagued me about the purpose of living: the purpose of living an embodied life was to learn. Certainly the emotional pain I went through as a child taught me the empathy that helped me later to help others with their respective pains. That of course did not lessen my grief when I lost my brother (whom I had always cared for) when he was 19 and I was 23. Had I not had my baby daughter to care for I would have wanted to follow Dougie. But a friend told me that Dougie’s work on earth was done and he was free to go and indeed he had had a wonderful influence on his friends. So I do believe that you and your loved one will meet again as disembodied souls, and again as reincarnated beings and while that doesn’t lessen the pain of being alone down here now, it does seem to comfort the people who believe this. So I guess you could say that I think of death as a transition and part of life. My mom made that transition 2 years ago the day before yesterday on her own time and her own terms: she stopped taking food and water after having a “retirement” party for her family and she passed peacefully and painlessly with us around her and when I feel ready I will do the same. We spread her ashes in the mtns same place we had spread Dougie’s ashes 41 years earlier. It is lonely without them but we have good memories. I wish you peace and a voice in your head that you recognize as that of your beloved’s.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      When I was young, I found comfort in the idea of reincarnation, but now I find the very idea horrific. This whole earth thing, being part of an eat and be eaten world, disturbs me. I’d just as soon not be part of it.

      I don’t much like the idea of eternity, either. Until he died, I believed in oblivion, but while I still like the idea for me, I can’t bear the thought of his being totally gone forever, which is why the whole death thing continues to confound me.

  3. Joylene Butler (@cluculzwriter) Says:

    A renown psychic once wrote that before you’re born you sit down with God and map out your entire life, every second of it. My little earth brain can’t picture some young girl deciding that she’ll be born in Iran and will endure unspeakable atrocities until her death. Or a North American woman accepting the fate of a murder victim or someone beaten and raped. Or the man deciding he’ll die a slow and painful death from lung cancer.

    Sure, we’re here to learn, I believe that. And yes, death is part of life. But it’s the way we die that perplexes me. If Sally lives a good life and serves, why does she have to wither away from some debilitating disease?

    Too many questions and not enough answers. So… I’ve decided not to focus on the things I can’t explain, but to be the best human being I can be while I’m here, to serve and to learn. That means treating everyone as if I was treating myself. Not always easy, but I can’t see an alternative.

    Great post, Pat.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s what confuses me, too, Joylene. The manner of death. When our “lessons” have been learned, why can’t we just leave our bodies behind to die? Why do we have to be in them? I do not believe suffering is necessary as a learning tool. The lessons you learn from suffering are cruel. Animals learn better when they are given a treat after they’ve learned a lesson than if they are made to suffer for not learning the lesson, so why should humans be any different?

      I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusion that you have — just be the best human being I can be. But I’ve decided to go the opposite direction from you — I’m going to treat myself the way I’d like others to treat me.

  4. leesis Says:

    A thought provoking post Pat. Death confronts us. It shatters our sense of knowing and exposes our vunerability like nothing else. I so related to your response; “This whole earth thing, being part of an eat and be eaten world, disturbs me. I’d just as soon not be part of it.” I am more inclined towards reincarnation than any other theory however I too find the idea of the ‘organic’ experience…the I must eat life to be alive reality confronting and disturbing and would rather not be part of it. Yet i am, we are and the experience of suffering appears part of it.

    For me then it is this ‘suffering’ that holds my attention. And my question is not why do we suffer but rather do we have to suffer? Certainly we do suffer and for very good reasons but what if we don’t actually have to? If you look at the evolution of the way we have understand suffering we seem to have stopped questioning when we decided there is some sort of ‘heaven’ after this life. We put suffering in a box, decided suffering must happen in life and comforted ourselves with a non-suffering afterlife. So for me, not accepting this sudden stop in our search for understanding I have to conclude there is more to understand.

    What if we only suffer because we don’t know any better…yet? What if we die the way we die because thats the only way we know right now and when we know more we’ll do it differently? I think there is so much more to learn, so much more evolving of the psyche to undertake. And I think Einstein had it right when he said that imagination was more important than knowledge.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Leesa, as always, you make me think. You made a good point about suffering — what if we don’t know better? What if there is a different way of living, growing, dying?

      The alchemists weren’t primarily interested in turning lead into gold. The crucible for the transformation was the alchemist himself, and some supposedly found their way out of this world of suffering. They also discovered a means of creating nuclear energy without the radiocative side effects (according to some experts, it’s a simple process once you know how, which is why both Germany and the USA scoured France for alchemical texts in the 1940s.) My point is, they believed there was a different, uncomplicated way of dealing with reality, a way that achieved results other than we get with our reality. So perhaps there is a different way of thinking which brings about a different way of living and dying?

      I once believed that playfulness was the spirit of the universe, that in a playful mode, one could accomplish great things. Then life got serious, or I got serious, and I lost that belief because what does suffering have to do with playfulness. I’ve been struggling to find a reason to write. Perhaps this is the reason — to cultivate playfulness.

      • leesis Says:

        interesting stuff about the alchemists Pat…I look forward to following that up. Funny about playfulness. I think playfulness is essential to imagination. I just looked up the defn of imagination which is “the action of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.” How can one imagine outside the boundries of our senses without the willingness to be playful?

        I am currently working on a post about suffering…and imagination. Thank-you for the inspiration :).

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I always thought playfulness was one of those things that needed two people to give the result reality, but since there’s only me now, I’ll have to scrap that idea, and just aim for whatever playfulness I can find.

          • leesis Says:

            One of the adjustments you are going through Pat is becoming one rather than two. No, you don’t need another. Playfulness is a state of mind…it’s a particular way of approaching ‘being’ I think. It’s lovely to share but that’s not a prerequisite.

  5. dellanioakes Says:

    Pat, I wish I had an answer for you. I suppose if we ever figure this out, we can make millions on the talk show circuit. My neighbor just found out she has stage 4 lung cancer that has spread all over her body. Six weeks ago, she was on a cruise with her children and grandchildren. Now she has perhaps that much longer to live. It sickens me to see her in this position. She’s been my neighbor nearly 20 years. I have been once to visit & need to go again, but seeing her reduced by her illness is so hard.

    I hope you and your friend can find some meaning, some solace. I know it’s not easy.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s very difficult watching someone die, but I imagine it’s even harder dying. I hope you will be kind to your neighbor.

      • dellanioakes Says:

        Absolutely. She is a lovely, wonderful lady and I know this isn’t easy for her. She’s made peace with it, but it’s still got to be very hard.


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