Perhaps more so than anything else, death is a common experience shared by all mankind, and indeed connects us intimately to life on Earth as a whole. Death, the cessation of the living experience, is one of most important events in any living creature’s life: it is a termination, the end. As such, human society has long been fascinated and fearful of death. It is not surprising that humans, the only animal capable of consciously understanding that it is alive, and thus recognizing the incredible value of that life, should be troubled by the prospect of life ending. It is all we have ever known. Yet as we become more acutely aware of how the world around us works, death becomes much less of an ultimate end. Indeed, death appears more like a new beginning. In light of this, understanding and accepting our own death helps us give value to our life and value to our passing. Embracing death helps us to embrace life.
Death is perhaps the only certainty in life. Regardless of whom they are or what they do, every person and every animal alive today will eventually die. Having death is integral to living life. It provides the living experience with a conclusion, and is a necessary consequence of natural physical decay. As such, death is integral to the living experience. Without death, a life is incomplete. It has failed to experience what every other creature ever has come to discover. Fearing death, then, means fearing what could be our most important experience. It undermines the living experience. By attempting to postpone what is ultimately inevitable, one is undermining the opportunity to experience life to the fullest. Death will eventually come, no matter how much effort is put into avoiding or postponing it, and fearing it will only limit the ability to have a fulfilling life until it does.
The nature of death can also aid us in appreciating the reality of our own life. Death is everywhere, and is something shared by all living creatures. Though the specifics of how and when something died is specific to it, the fact that it has undergone death, that it has ended life, is shared in common with all other deaths. All humans will die; together we are all the same in that regard. It is thus how we live our life that stands us apart from one another and makes us unique. By recognizing that death will come to us like it has all before us, we can better appreciate what we have uniquely and singularly accomplished in our own life, the things which have not come to others before us. Accepting how similar we are when it comes to death allows us to recognize how different and special we are in life. It provides a value to the living experience. At the same time, by accepting our own ultimate demise and the fact that we share it with every other human, we become more closely connected to the life around us. Together we live, and together we die. It is a powerful connection, which unites all life on Earth and reveals our common heritage.
Still, the idea of death can be frightening to the human mind, which is incapable of perceiving and comprehending what experience may, or may not, lay beyond the end of life. Accordingly, human societies have come up with all sorts of ideas of the afterlife, of the continuation of the experience of living after the body has died. As this is all we have ever known, this is what we assumed followed death. I myself cannot accept the idea of the afterlife, because the evidence for it does not exist. If anything, our growing understanding of the nature of consciousness as a manifestation of physical and mechanical processes in the brain would undermine such a belief. Still, regardless of whether an afterlife is real or not, death is not as ultimate an end as we fear. Our understanding of the world has vastly improved over time, and with it our understanding of how we live, die, and what we are made of. We know now that we are born constructed out of atoms that have existed since the beginning of time. We recycle nutrients and materials which are in turn recycled through our environment and our universe. We ourselves are recycled material, made from stuff created in the furnace of a star. Though our death ends our conscious experience of life, it does not end this continuous flowing movement of material and energy. Everything that made us up, everything which powered our experience of life, will reenter the natural world and, perhaps, be reassembled into a future form of life. In a way, our death presents a new beginning, a new opportunity for life to arise, just as how we arose from material that likely once made up life before us. This is immortality, a way our presence is in death forever continued.