Is Death Scary?


How to stop being afraid of death and be ready to meet it (her:)

My essay (Writing Work Shop, Berkeley City College)

Human life consists of many different events and periods: birth, childhood, first day at school, teen years, university studying, wedding, kids’ births, parenthood, old age… We used to be glad when someone is born and upset when someone dies. It’s logical: the birth is positive news, and death is the opposite. It makes sense why we congratulate each other with the dates of birth. Every year of our life we celebrate the fact that we have become older and we are still alive. We do it until the very end. The question is: why are we always ready for joy and never ready for grief? Let’s try to change this point of view, face our fears and take all our happenings as they are. Death is the last moment in our life and we have to accept it as something inevitable, not necessarily the worst, but something we can’t avoid. It would be better for us to do it without being depressed and experiencing feelings of sadness about it. We can accept death and take it as a link in the chain of events in our life.

People in some regions in the world believe that death is a transferring into another world, from some point of view, better than this one. They make cheerful funerals and they look like small celebrations.  Instead of wearing black, people dress up in white, singing and smiling to each other. There is a famous Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places, especially the United States. It is called The Day of the Dead. Friends and family members come to the cemeteries, dressed beautifully. They eat, laugh, sing and pray for people who passed away. It is their way to support their spiritual journey. Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO approved Day of the Dead in the Representative List in 2008.  People in Peru have their own attitude to the funeral. Nobody is crying. There is a real celebration on the six-months anniversary of the person’s death, the one-year anniversary and each year thereafter. It reminds us of our tradition of the birthday celebration, doesn’t it? It’s like a date of death is a new date of birth, but in another world, where the dead person probably feels happier than before. Here, in America, there is one weird, from my point of view, holiday, which is the evidence that people here are not scared of death. At least, how death looks like. It’s Halloween. Two months before this holiday the stores are decorated by different spooky things: witches, skeletons, dead bodies and etc. Kids used to see it since their birth, they used to buy scary masks, decorate their houses before Halloween, put on the costumes and go “trick-or-treat”. All of these are the attributes of death. Objectively, it doesn’t look even half as beautiful as Mexican costumes and the makeup for the Day of the Dead celebration. A fearless attitude to these death attributes says that they don’t look scary for people here also. All these traditions teach people to accept death as something positive.

In other countries, when the person dies, his/her relatives and friends wear black, cry and show their grief to the public. It is not acceptable to smile or laugh at the funeral. If you are a widow, you have to look sad. In some cultures, people are hired to be mourners at the funeral. This tradition came from Ancient Egypt and Greece.  Many cultures expect mourners to curtail certain activities, usually those considered frivolous or that are accompanied by expressions of joy. I see this tradition as very strange and I think the funeral can be arranged different. For example, one character from the movie Love is All Around who became a widower, made a special funeral for his loved wife. Before her death she asked him about it. There was lively music and lively pictures of their life together, people didn’t look sad, they were smiling together with the widower. It was light hearted sadness. I think it shows that people can overcome stereotypes, against all odds. Everything depends on them and their close people support. I believe it is possible not only in the movies, but also in our life.  Personally, I am very worried when I imagine my grandma is not alive.  I have been thinking about it last 20 years, and – thanks, God! — she is OK and she’s going to celebrate her 99th birthday on the 2d of January, 2017. Maybe I chose this topic because of her. I understand her last moment is inevitable and I know I have to change my attitude and stop crying every time when I just imagine it. I have to convince myself I am not a mourner and she will always be with me, no matter what, in my heart, because the person is alive until someone remembers him/her. It is not right — to be depressed for a long time or more and wearing black clothes for a certain time because our society requires it.

The problem is that death can come any day and any time, for example, in an accident. Russian writer Michail Bulgakov in his famous novel Master and Margarita said, «Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he’s sometimes unexpectedly mortal — there’s the trick! And generally he’s unable to say what he’s going to do this same evening”. It is always unexpected when you suddenly realize that something happened with people, young and full of plans. Last year in June, six students about 20 years old fell together with the balcony in downtown Berkeley. When they went to the party, they couldn’t imagine, that it will be the last party of their life. It’s not easy to find something positive in what happened. More than a year after the tragedy, their pictures are still under the balcony where they spent the last seconds of their lives. What does this story teach us? I think to appreciate any moment of life. As one Russian poet Alexander Kochetkov said, “…And every time say “goodbye” like you leave forever, when you leave just for a moment”. This accident teaches us to perceive any moment with people we love as a treasure, because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. The fact that death can come suddenly, has to help us to realize how important our relations are with people we love. It has to show us that we don’t have to be offended for a long time. It forces us not to delay with apology if we said something rude, because any time it can be too late.

As psychologists say, if you cannot change the situation, change your attitude to it. Can we avoid death in general? No. Do we want to worry a lot about it? I don’t think so. Can we help ourselves to accept it as a fact? Yes. I would even say: we can think about how to arrange our own funeral. There is one interesting book written by Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death, where she gleefully reported on the enterprising ways undertakers play on fear and guilt to insure that the cost of a funeral is one of the most expensive purchases the average American will make after a house and an automobile. It is amazing how the author could express such a sad topic with a great sense of humor. It doesn’t matter that this book is about death. After you start reading it your mood becomes quite positive. A few weeks ago I witnessed an event where old people came to talk about cremation. The well-known “Neptune society” organized a meeting in a Berkeley restaurant to let people know about the company’s service and prices. Of course, some people came to have free meals, but most of them were thinking about their own funeral seriously. They thought about their kids’ expenses and wanted to take care of this event now, when they are alive. The main idea was — people don’t have to be afraid to talk about future death and take care about it in advance. Their kids, grandkids and close people have to know what to do when death happens.  One of the slogans of “Neptune society” is, “Parents need to be parents one last time”. They convince people that “it’s selfish not to take care if these end-of-life issues and selfish not to communicate with your kids about them. More importantly, it’s a final statement you make as a parent, you should make this decision and not leave it to your kids or loved once. Done openly, it will insure the greatest legacy of all: family members who remain friends after you’re gone”. These are the statements which have an impact on the minds of people who try to prepare for the funeral. The average cost of it in America now is $7000-18000. The “Neptune society” suggests to save the money and spend less than $3000. Old people who don’t want to make trouble for their kids after their death sign the agreement. Their next step is to let everyone know about it, which is not easy, because it is kind of weird — to talk about your own death with your family members, when you are not ready to say “farewell” to them. People try to do their best, because they know, everyone understands that death is inevitable and they have to accept it as a fact.

People make their mood by themselves. We see the world as we want to see it. If we are ready to see sad things — we notice them. If we want to see positive side of life, we just do not see anything that can ruin our perception of life. The most positive thing is that we are alive. Let’s be concerned about what can happen any moment and stop thinking of bad things. What if we just try to enjoy life and see positive sides of it instead having fears? Let’s try to be happy every day when we see people we love. Let’s notice the blue sky above our heads and chirping of birds around us instead looking at the computers and cell-phones all the time. Let’s try to feel death not as the end of life but part of it and believe we can meet each other later, in the next life. I think it’s easier to live if you believe in it. I really like What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams. This is a tragic movie, because it tells a story of how death completely ruined the happiness of one family. At the same time, this movie gives us hope with the belief that all people who love each other can meet later, after their lives, in a new colorful world. Furthermore, some of them will have one more chance to meet in our reality again.


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