From very early on in life, we learn that we are individuals: you are different from everything that is not you. This idea goes one step further: everything and everyone beyond you, also has an individual identity. Your best friend is Carlos, your bowtie collection is unique, your favorite food is potato wedges; but these things are surely different from one another, or else we’d be snacking on our best friend and ruining our fancy shirts with greasy potato-ties. The underlying idea between all of those societal truths is best summed up by a kid’s television show on Nickelodeon- Avatar The Last Airbender: “The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation.”
Separation and individuality are a beautiful thing, as are bow ties; but when you spend a lifetime viewing the world solely through this lense, it can make the end of life a bit scary. This is because death is the most widely recognized transition out of individuality: your body finally gives up the fight to maintain its boundaries, and you begin the process of decomposition. In a wild setting, nature quickly reclaims our remains, but in society, we try so hard to maintain each other’s individuality that we box up the dead into thick sturdy coffins to protect them from the ground they’re buried in.
My last hospice patient had a fear of being alone in his final months. I believe this was because he was having near-death experiences or visions that were all hinting at his impending blurring of lines. In favor of holding onto the identity he had so beautifully crafted in this life, he rejected the visions by anchoring himself to the living. Like the process of dying, even the idea of seeing spirits scares so many of us because the supernatural is a reminder that everything we learned about our reality and individuality is at best half true.
In closing, instead of focusing on the differences, I wish to consider the similarities between Death and everyday Life: we spend our entire lives dying, and being reborn- for we are not the same person today -physically or mentally- that we were the day we entered high school, thank God. In the same way we welcome major transitions in everyday life- birthdays (child-to-adult), first girlfriends (desperate-to-awkward), graduations (student-to-practitioner), marriages (single-to-team)- there are plenty of reasons to welcome the passing of a life well lived (fatigued-to-rested, vulnerable-to-guardian, and pained-to-peaceful). If I may sum up my admittedly limited experience on the collective understanding of life after death: that which follows a beautiful life, is not so different from the beauty of life itself.