Meaning in Death

“To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.” — Hamlet
Continuing a recent theme, we must pause to question whether there is any meaning in death. Death — that closure of possibilities; Death — that last enemy to be defeated. Whether it is embraced in a stoicism or a philosophical release of the soul from the body (à la Socrates) or it is shuddered at and avoided (à la Hamlet), it is the inevitable end of humankind. It is experience throughout life in the deaths of others. Is it darkness? Can one die with dignity? Is avoiding death the purpose of health and modern medicine? These are just a few of the questions.

What would dying well even look like?  I’ve written on that previously. But it is a question, one of the questions of human existence. There are plenty of philosophies and religions out there, and all of them have something to say about dying. In most, death is a certain kind of closure; sometimes, it is a release, a return, or a cessation. It is a distinctive from life. Separated by the event itself, life and death are not seen as contiguous, but as an interruption, an ending. But this is not always the case.

There is the thought that how we live impacts, and is directly related to how we die. Not meaning the pain or the agony of death; but the meaning. Aristotle said, “Count no one happy until they are dead.” That is, the meaning of a life is not completed until that life is no longer (perhaps not even then). Life well is crucial to dying well. So, what can dying teach us about living?

It is not for us. As I noted in the earlier posts on death, we cannot experience our own deaths. Our deaths are experienced by those we leave behind. In dying, we step into silence, step into the unknown, step out in faith in the faithfulness of God. All of this can be also how we live. We don’t have to live for ourselves, trying to accrue wealth and honours for us, for our name and reputation. We can live with the silence, with the excess of things, believing and having faith in something we cannot explain or see. We can live into greater meaning than this immanent world, or we can live in fear. The choice is ours really.

We do not know what dreams may come, in life and in death. They are connected; they are united. We live and we die, not alone, but as we build up a life in community, beyond what we think or imagine, in faith, in hope, and in love.

— Jeremy

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