Legendary playwright and short-story author Anton Chekhov wrote in “The Bet”, when a character contrasts the death penalty to life in prison, that “death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor.” At the same time, Chekhov pontificated that we shall find peace, witness angels, and see diamonds in the sky upon our unavoidable demise.
Since the dawn of man (peoplekind?), the fear of death has plagued us, tormented us, sent us into fits of fury, vexation, and sorrow. From the first moment you embark upon this earthly journey, you are extended a finite amount of time; some cherish it, some waste it, some make every second count. The monks say that death does not exist because only the present lives. The philosophers expatiate their own theories – eternal recurrence, nothingness, heaven and hell. The poets romantically write that the fatal process is either beautiful because you flee tragedy or void of meaning since death doesn’t occur because you don’t exist.
Because we are unsure what transpires after we take that final gasp of air, that final thought of what it is to be a mortal being, that final minute of remembering our regrets and triumphs, we do everything we can to prevent the inevitable decay of the body. Morning jogs, vegan diets, multivitamins, a Viennese waltz. As we approach our mid-life crisis, man partakes in any type of activity or trend that may or may not be otiose.
But all of this might be in vain. We’re not spending our winter years sauntering around Venice, discovering solace in the Tibetan mountains, or leaping out of airplanes. We’re enduring our final days resting in the dreary, drab, and depressing conditions of a hospital.
The Facts of Death
According to the BBC, scientists are forecasting a surge in deaths in the coming years. In the last 20 to 30 years, life expectancies have increased, while the number of people reaching their expiration has tumbled. The negative revelation is these deaths are merely postponed to a later date.
The fact is that people are living longer, but they are spending more time in poor health, and, thus, in the hospital, where they can die better, but which isn’t necessarily what they want. Many end-of-life organizations have been encouraging individuals to be open about their wishes towards the end of their life, which consists of where they want to perish or what will happen to their remains.
Dying Matters Coalition told the media outlet:
“Talking about dying makes it more likely that you, or your loved one, will die as you might have wished. And it will make it easier for your loved ones if they know you have had a ‘good death.’”
The Truth of Death
Do you wish to pass away in your humble abode or death’s waiting room?
Humans ostensibly want to die in the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by their loved ones, their possessions, their fortresses of fond memories. Unfortunately, in England, most transitions to the other side take place other than your walls.
Using National Health Service (NHS) data, the BBC reports that nearly half of deaths in 2017 were in hospitals, while less than one-quarter were at home. The remainder happened in care homes or hospice facilities.
What happens to your remains is also an important decision to make, notes various end-of-life institutions. Sixty years ago, burials were the most common way to dispose of remains. That number has fallen to about one-fifth as many families choose to cremate their loved ones. The option is often made for financial and environmental reasons.
William Shakespeare quipped in Henry IV that “death pays all debts.” Unfortunately, more families are going into debt to cover the cost of even the most basic burial, cremation, or funeral ceremony.
Over the last decade, the average funeral price-tag has risen from £2,300 ($3,100) to £4,100 ($5,500). Industry experts blame the 70% increase in fuel prices, local government budgets, land values, and a paucity of space. Simply put: it has become too expensive to die.
Finally, a neoteric phenomenon in the process of death is your digital legacy.
For whatever reason, many people are concerned about what happens to their social media profiles when they die. A reminder of that famous Jean-Pierre Melville quote about his life’s ambition – “To become immortal…and then die” – and perhaps even evidence of our societal narcissism, people are worried about their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and MySpace accounts, prompting new services and industries. The Digital Legacy Association was founded, while attorneys offer digital wills for clients.
The lives of your 303 anonymous followers will indeed be devastated if you’re inactive or dead.
What We Want from Life and Death
It may seem superfluous now when you’re young, virile, and full of pith and vinegar, but perhaps it is a prudent idea to plan how and where you wish to die while you can. Would you rather be in your king-sized bed, listening to the sweet sounds of Benny Goodman and watching your grandchildren or would you prefer to be surrounded by sickness, death, and strangers?
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius meditated that death should not be feared, but rather you should be scared by refusing to live.
Despite the possibility of receiving a premature pink slip from life, many of us are absent from everything it has to offer mankind. We are stuck in neutral, we are walking on a treadmill, we are frightened to put up a stake in life’s casino. Monotony is prevalent, stagnation reigns supreme. This can elicit tremendous guilt and regret towards the end of your life, especially as you open your eyes and see tubes, hear beeps, touch sterile linen, and feel great sadness that you’re about to leave your body – at least you can take comfort in the fact that you will be one with the light, or maggots.
Do you think people should plan for death when they’re alive? Let us know in the comments section!