3 Valuable Lessons from Death

by Chad Davis

I was there when my childhood dog died. I stood by his side and fed him Raisinettes. He ate the whole bag.

The vet had to administer the overdose of anesthetics twice.

He said it was due to the tumors grappling onto my dog’s leg; they prevented a strong enough blood flow for the medicine to take full effect.

I prefer to think he was a fighter until the end.

CJ’s cancer quickly spread throughout his body, and it turned my once playful, mischievous pal into a slow and visibly deteriorated vessel.

I watched him grow from 10-weeks-old until the moment he passed, and truthfully, to hold on any longer would've been unkind.

Luckily, this has been my closest encounter with death. For me, it was figuring out when it was his time to pass that caused my heartbreak.

I wanted to be there on his last day to make sure he was happy and calm, despite my own sadness.

Facing any death is to watch somebody fade into a memory. Once the body dies, the friend within it vanishes out of time and space.

Experiencing this moment that happens to all beings lingers in the subconscious of the living, terrifying and haunting our waking lives.

However, this is not because we resent death for taking our loved ones away. Rather, we’re horrified by the inevitability that this will happen to us.

One day, at some point, I will die.

But this fear needn’t be our lasting impression of death. In fact, if we are brave enough to listen, death has many insights that can help the living tremendously.

Unlike the living, the dying are free to let go, free to release the pain and anxiety about death that once choked their livelihoods, which is why I see little use in pitying the dying.

There is no reason they should be mourned.

Once one passes the threshold of psychological acceptance of his or her demise, this person is lighter than air. There is nothing that can hurt or scare this person anymore.

Mourning, then, is the expression of your loss of your loved one, and that is the hardest burden of all to bear.

But in feeling this loss, there are a few things you could learn from death that will help you better understand life in the future.

Fear is nothing; fear is ungrounded.

If you felt fear, keep imagining what it's like to slip into nothingness. Nobody can claim with certainty what the sensation of death feels like or what happens afterward.

It isn’t entirely like sleeping because when you sleep, your brain is incredibly active, producing dreams both memorable and those brushed into the subconscious.

Death also isn’t a blackness that overtakes your senses forever. You wouldn’t know what forever would feel like, let alone be able to experience the blackness.

In fact, humans have very few concepts that even begin to approach the sensation of death.

I mean how could we, considering our vocabulary, philosophy and psychology is derived from life?

The closest approximation humans have likened to death is what you felt like before you were born. 

Let that sink in. Death is like what you felt before you were born. It is a pause, a rest between notes.

It is dark matter in space, holding the light together, preventing our atoms from ripping apart chaotically.

Death is the truly unknown, the subconscious to the conscious.

It is the antithesis, the complete opposite of life and the very bonding agent that enables mortal lives to experience what we experience every day.

So, what do you fear exactly? Death isn’t a scary monster; it isn’t anything we can conceive. Yet, at the same time, it’s the very thing that enables life.

Stop worrying about death and live the life you’re experiencing now before the moment comes when you can no longer experience it.

Regret is the result of making excuses.

If you yearned for more time, what have you been missing in your life? What would have you done differently, and what can you do now to change things?

Existence is pattern, and therefore, sentience is habitual. The life you live today is the compounded result of choices, behaviors and emotions.

Only you can choose if you do or don’t do something. Your behaviors are the actions that result from your choices, and the emotions descend from the two thereafter.

If you wish to not feel regret at the end of your life, then you must form a new pattern to your life, to everything.

Change how you get up in the morning, the things you eat, the topics you read, the thoughts you do say and those you don’t.

These seemingly insignificant details will in turn spur greater changes in your life, and make you more prone to taking action on dreams or goals.

Regret happens when we convince ourselves our ambitions are too difficult, not worth the risk or impossible considering other circumstances of our lives.

But, we are quick to forget that without failure or pain, we cannot learn. Therefore, in order to become successful in fulfilling your dreams, you have to keep trying.

Does that mean you’ll get exactly what you want or become the perfect person you’d always imagined you could be? No, of course not.

What will actually happen is you’ll look back on your life and appreciate everything you’ve done, even if it didn’t come out the way you originally envisioned it to be.

The great realization about taking action to achieve your goals is that you’ve become happier, simply because you acted in the first place, regardless of whether or not everything turned out the way you originally envisioned it to be.

If you’re after something, reach out your hand and grab it. You’ll figure out how to make it work along the way, and you’ll feel better about it down the road.

Accept death and enable life.

To die is to completely let go.

However, many people have found that to let go completely before your death enables you to reach a certain feeling of life that is unprecedented.

Many times, when people have near death experiences (NDEs) and utterly let go and stop fighting the inevitability of death, they have a sudden and profound change in their outlooks on life entirely.

They become “enlightened,” which DT Suzuki amusingly put it as, “like everyday, normal life except from about two inches off the ground.”

In fact, NDEs have been documented and written about for centuries in both the Western and Eastern cultures.

All of those who undergo a NDE all recount the same universal effects of timelessness, tranquility and a bodiless sensation that completely changes them once they are physiologically brought back to life. 

The whole point of living may very well be to let go of the baggage we carry about death. Once we are able to do that, life becomes far more than what we’ve limited it to be.

Death teaches us what we already know; if we don’t take the time now to do something with the life we have, we never will have the chance to do so again.

When the vet said CJ’s heart stopped, and my friend lied peacefully on the table, my dad had to gently nudge me and ask if I was ready to go.

I felt, for a brief moment, the timelessness that CJ felt and now feels, even if he cannot comprehend it.

I scratched his head one last time, exited the room and hugged my dad.

I was a kid again, if only for a minute.

Death can teach us that. It can reduce the living adult into the small child one still is on the inside.

It can break down the walls we’ve built as we’ve grown older and force us to ask, “What have I done with this time of sentiency, of being conscious? What will I do with it now?”

I hope the darkness of this topic doesn’t outshine its virtues. Death, despite its scary reputation, is actually a great thing.

It enables us to be alive, to dream, to fight and to feel the myriad of emotions that can many times overwhelm us.