I am always stalked by a sense of death. This started almost two decades ago when my husband fell ill. For the next 18 months, we prepared ourselves to say goodbye to each other. I have experienced death by loved ones before, but that time felt different, as if a big part of me died too. This made me sensitive to any episode of illness involving myself and anyone I cared about, always thinking that each brush with illness, no matter how slight, is a sign, a reminder that life is fragile and that we will all eventually end up breathing our last.
I have been living with this sense of death for so long that I have also unintentionally grown a ridiculous level of awareness around it. When I broke my leg 3 years ago, the first thing that popped out of my mouth when I asked my go-to doctor was "Am I going to die?" He was a neurologist and said, "I would have to ask your orthopedic doctor, but your brain is fine, so far." I also ask my dentist the same question whenever I have any issue with my teeth that is a little more than the ordinary. Of course, I would ask it lightly, but in my head, it really comes with a tagged reminder that this is an inevitable wear and tear that builds up to that final blow.
With all the breakthroughs and advancements in medicine, scientists are still largely in agreement that as far as our biology is concerned, death is inevitable. In fact, even as scientists work to find cures for illnesses and aging, they are also not sure if living forever is a desirable thing. We can delay death, of course, but we cannot run away from it. So we should really learn how to live and talk about death in our normal conversations.
Life is not really served if we consider death a taboo conversation topic. It is not really a pleasant topic to hoist in social gatherings, but with sensitivity, it could reshape for the better how we treat ourselves and one another. This is because there is nothing that could make you think deeply about living than being acutely aware that it will end.
Death is not even a "happening" to you at the end of your life because once it does, you have already ceased to be. Death really is felt by the ones left behind, and this sense of death is permanent. So while we are alive, we have to know how to live with it so that it could reshape our lives while we can, armed with the shadow of death.
"A mountain of sorrow before which we will all kneel" is how BJ Miller described death in his TED Talk which I have listened to a few times. That phrase, while it seared in me a deep sadness, also strangely made me regain a higher-charged sense of adventure and reverence for life. Death is a "mountain" we all come upon in our journeys, and we will all "kneel" before it. After his own almost-consummated union with death, he changed his major to art history so that he would learn how to really see. And what did he see? He saw what most of us struggle to do so – that much of art is human alchemy – when inner chaos could transform: "Anguish could be turned into a flower."
Even in grief, there is so much more to gain if you learn to move forward with it rather than move on with it. Nora McInerny's TED Talk perfectly painted how I feel up to now about my own indelible grief. There is no emotional surgery possible for that kind of pain. I learned to live and shape new adventures in life with it.
Holy Week always reminds me of how we make a distinction between what we think is "holy" and what is not. Even with "holy," there is "holier" and "holiest." There is also All Souls' Day, where we remember the people who all now live within us after they have gone. But I think there should be a Death Day around the world just to remind each and every human being alive that so far, everyone who has ever lived only had one shot at being alive. I think there is no more powerful reminder about how precious and sacred life is than being reminded it will happen to you only once.
BJ Miller has an elegant command of words. He used the phrase "tend to our dignities" to refer to how we should treat our life and others' lives. I think this is so crucial to meaning that we all live for. No death is glamorous – I can personally attest to that. But dignity as a form of love and respect is what we should never compromise while alive – for ourselves and for others. This is what we never surrender to "ashes," not even for the sake of being "holy." – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.