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Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009: A Year to Look at Death

By Scott Nance

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a lot more people are dying these days. Or, at least, that a lot more famous people are dying.

The news has become an endless parade of celebrity mortality, to the point where one death competes with another, a new demise overshadowing the last one. Ed McMahon passes away, then Farrah Fawcett dies days later (not to mention Michael Jackson's shocking demise just hours later on the same day).

And then celebrity pitchman Billy Mays dies just days after that.

There's been no let-up since, either, with Walter Cronkite, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and actor Patrick Swayze just a few of the other names recently boarding the express train away from this mortal coil.

Indeed, Swayze's end this week came just before news that Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary had also passed on.

It's to the point some days that newspaper and website editors find they're having multiple big-name obituaries jockeying for lead-story position.

They say these things come in threes, but this year that rule seems to have been expanded exponentially. It's enough to leave you wondering if Heaven will have to open a new wing.

Of course, all the dead have their own circumstances that brought them to their fate. Some, like Fawcett and Swayze, succumbed to illness. Others, like Jackson and Mays, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Still others, like Cronkite, who were major historical figures of the mid 20th century, simply passed on as that era becomes ever more distant from here in the 21st.

While there is nothing mystical in the surprising regularity with which we are brought face-to-face with death these days, there is a real opportunity for those of us left behind.

We may never be famous, our deaths may or may not even end up in a newspaper, but it is certain that sooner or later, each of us will die.

While we all know that on an intellectual level, in our culture we spend our lives not just ignoring that fact but actually keeping it hidden and distant. We all want to die peacefully when we are old, but we usually give it no more thought than that. But the sooner we face it as reality – and make peace with it – the better our lives will be.

But why, as a society, are we so afraid of death? Why, as author Eckhart Tolle has said, is death so hidden in our culture that it is illegal for most people to even see a dead body (outside a funeral home)?

To be sure, I'm not saying anyone should want to cut their lives short, or that we should rush our own deaths in any way. To the contrary, you may find that coming to true terms with your own mortality may actually make the days you spend on this earth that much sweeter.

I'm also not attempting to proselytize for any particular faith or form of spirituality – or even that you necessarily become a religious person if you are not. What I am saying is that we should all drop the stories of personal procrastination we all tell ourselves to avoid even thinking about our own demises.

Death may not come for 50 years – or it may come tomorrow (Michael Jackson and Billy Mays certainly were not expecting theirs either.) You just don't know.

Whenever it should come for you, come to a point within yourself where you are not terrified of it, or bitter about it. And remember that when your time comes – whenever that may be – you aren't the only one to die. Think of all those who went before you just this year.

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