Remember Your Death: What I Said When My Father Died.
My father died of a heart attack yesterday, at the age of 88. He died very quickly, and at home, the kind of death he hoped for, and I am very glad for him that he was able to have a good death. He specified no services, that his body be cremated and the ashes spread on the farm he loved, and on which I grew up.
My contemplative practice is based on certain principles, and one of them is the conscious awareness of death, my own, and all others, including those whom I love. Death does not have the same meaning for me that it does for most. I have no fear of death itself, or of ceasing to be, altho I hope that I am able to have a death as fine as my fathers. If I do not, that is my fate, and i will accept it with equanimity.
We are big-brained animals on the surface of a planet. We forget this. But in death, we all become again what we are; animals, living organisms, pure, innocent, absolutely individual and unique, and as animals we die, and sometimes there is pain, or fear, but then, we stop, we cease, and we are gone.
It is the price of consciousness, to be aware of time, and therefore, to be aware of death. Humans now think they are conscious, but, they are better described as being in a preconscious state, with some of the benefits of consciousness, and some of its costs, including an awareness of death. The strongest evidence that humans are preconscious can be seen in our attitudes towards death, our death rituals, and our religions, which are all at their core based on a story that says, “We seem to die, but really we don’t die, we continue afterwards, either reincarnated or in various afterlifes.
When humans become more fully conscious, conscious at will, more conscious than not, they don’t need, and won’t need, that story of “not really gone”. It will still exist, used as an artform, or as a way to comfort the preconscious, the young, and the fearful, and those too ill to keep hold of consciousness.
I know I will die. I will have those moments, like my father did, of knowing I am dying, and then I will be gone, and never after walk the surface of this amazing planet, or see it’s beauties, or touch my loved ones, or create something fine. I never forget this. And because I never forget my death, I live life with a depth and power and joy that few have the privilege of matching. (That might sound vain. But it’s simply true.)
I recommend this to you. Remember your death.
I talked with him on the phone a few weeks ago. It was good to hear him, and hear his pleasure at hearing me. I’m glad that happened. I love you Dad. I got to say that to him.
Now, Dad, you exist as memory, ‘copies’ of you in my mind, and the minds of others. i can still ‘speak’ to you as a memory, still hear your advice and sayings, probably far more vividly than those without my training and minds.
But you are free from life, and gone. I am glad for you. I honor you. i will remember you.
I would prefer that instead of condolences that you who read this take this moment to remember your own deaths.
Now my father’s death will help me remember mine more clearly.