It’s always difficult to talk about one’s own fear of one’s own death. It usually comes across as a little melodramatic and seems to carry with it the appearance that somehow your fear of your death is somehow felt more deeply, analyzed more fully, or experienced more truly.
In short, when people start whining about their fear of death. It can be annoying. I acknowledge this. And yet, here I am, telling you all that I am really, really scared of death.
When I mention this to people that know me as the guy who writes a lot about faith and seems to believe these things pretty deeply, people are (for some reason) shocked to hear me explain just how deep my fear of death goes. I know it’s not logical, but I somehow find the past works of God more easily believable than the future acts of God. I know you can’t have one without the other, but the human heart is a storm of contradiction and paradox.
And for some reason, Death has occupied my thoughts of late. Sure, I’ve wrestle with it’s reality, thought through it’s theological origin, seen it in the faces of the hurting, wrote about how to live in spite of it, and even engaged it in poetry and in song, but something has really captured me recently. I’ve been sitting in the presence of this fear.
I always try to read three books at the same time: a fiction book, a non-fiction book, and some sort of theological/”Christian” book. And so, as part of my meditations on death, I’ve decided to read the following books as part of this journey, in order to address and speak to this fear in as helpful a way as possible.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This was supposed to be my non-fiction book. For some reason, I was under the impression that it was a memoir meditating about the author’s death. That was not at all the case. I made it a third of the way through the book before realizing it was a novel, written like a memoir. Full disclosure: I finished this book last week. And it was amazing.
And though it wasn’t necessarily non-fiction, it read like a real human being meditating on life, death, love, and our relationships. It gave me a lot of perspective on aging, growing up, and how our memories shape our future and our end.It encouraged me that as one grows older, there is a sense of “preparation” for death, so that death becomes an increasingly “comfortable” endpoint–or at least an understandable, even if undesired.
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
Any avid listener to NPR knows this book. I’ve heard many readings of its little vignettes on various public radio shows. This is my fiction read. It is poignant, powerful, funny, sad, and engaging in every way. Really. It touches and speaks to every part of our humanity.
It offers 40 little 2-to-4 page “possible” afterlife situations. In one story, after you die, you have to stand-in as the faceless extras in the backgrounds of people’s dreams. In another, you die and wake up in a lobby where everyone stays until the last time their name is said on earth. And still in another, you have to experience your life all over again, but with all the activities grouped together, so you spend 40 years sleeping, 5 years chewing, 3 years reading, etc.
It’s a really engaging read that can’t help but offer both lightness and profundity to this terrifying topic.
The Art of Dying by Rob Moll
This is going to be the “meat” of my reading. Admittedly, I haven’t made it past the Introduction. Not only is it a physically heavy book (making it difficult to carry in my bag all the time), but it’s also the one that is going to stare my fear straight in my face.
And just like all of those things that are painfully healthy for us, though I’m excited about it, something in me keeps avoiding it. We find lots of comfort in our fears and delusions, and addressing those things is sometimes scarier than our fear int he first place. This book has some amazing endorsements and I can’t wait to engage with it more.
As I’m in this weird season of inexplicable non-blogging, I thought I’d let you all know of the journey on which I’m walking. Feel free to give your own article or book suggestions.
And also, as I’m sure others of us feel the depth of these fears as well, let me ask you: how do you handle your fear of your death? How do you encourage yourself and others when the unknown is in danger of paralyzing your heart and trembling your soul?
Sound off in the comments below.