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Why Are We All in Denial About Death?

Near Death AwarenessThe thought of dying can scare us. We might see our loved ones suffer in old age and we know that one day we might be in a similar situation. But why are we in denial about death? We know one day we will face it, but it still seems impossible. Sallie Tisdale, author of ADVICE FOR FUTURE CORPSES, shares her perspective on death. 

I am not afraid of dying—that is, I don’t feel afraid to be a dying person, weak, sick. Sometimes I am curious. I am comforted by having seen peaceful deaths. But my curiosity about dying is the calm, sitting-by-the-fire kind. I do so want to keep on living and living and living. I can imagine being a dying person, but I still find it hard to believe that someday I will be dead. You, yes: you will die. But I—well, I don’t really believe that. Such hubris. But how can we let go of our lives? It’s impossible that you will leave me and even more impossible that I won’t exist. We walk around with a blinkered, partial denial of death. Yes, we will die, but not now, not here. This dissonance is strong and strange—to absolutely know this will happen, and against all evidence to the contrary, to absolutely not know. (It’s so hard to believe. When the Buddha’s own death was imminent, his closest followers wept and flung themselves on the ground and cried in lament: “Too soon!”) I understand bargaining. I’ve tried to make a lot of deals with the universe, and this is one: I’m ready to die if—I’m ready to die when. Just not now.

Acceptance is found only by wholly inhabiting our denial. Contemplating death is really contemplating resistance, and for a long time. How do we get ready to die? We start with not being ready. We start with the fact that we are afraid. A long, lonesome examination of our fear. We start by admitting that we are all future corpses pretending we don’t know.

You can find more practical perspectives on death and dying in the book ADVICE FOR FUTURE CORPSES by Sallie Tisdale.

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Have you heard of Swedish Death Cleaning? 

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Excerpted from Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale. Copyright © 2018 by Sallie Tisdale. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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