The Apprehension of Death

The Apprehension of Death


In this article the author says the comprehension of death may be extremely difficult; however, the apprehension of death could be more terrifying than death itself.




Translating the English word “death” in Marathi seems relatively simple: “maran” or “mrityu.” The simple meaning of the word ‘death’ is the ‘end of life’ or ‘the cessation of all vital functions of a living being’. Then what is ‘Dying’? Its dictionary meaning is ‘a process of ceasing to live,’ ‘drawing to a close,’ ‘ending,’ or ‘the act or process of ceasing to live.’ In colloquial language, however, we sometimes use this word in diverse contexts such as, ‘I am dying to see her’ or ‘He is dying to get rich’ etc. Nevertheless, the core meaning of the concept ‘dying’ will lead us somewhere to the meaning ‘presentiment of death’ or simply put – the apprehension of death. It makes one feel that death – the eternal and inevitable truth – is approaching us. The feeling that death is fast approaching ruins one’s remaining life and brings undesirable thoughts, making the mind vulnerable to outburst of emotions.


Some will say when death is inevitable, why should one be so apprehensive about it? One must build courage to face or embrace death smilingly. Why spoil the rest of one’s life brooding over it?


No doubt, this is an admirable thought, but it is far from the truth. Psychologically speaking, sensing the nearness of death can be responsible for frustration and it can easily kill one’s enthusiasm. Therefore, it is perhaps desirable that death should come suddenly without raising an alarm about its impending arrival.


Death becomes more comprehensible and acceptable when there is no apprehension, no presentiment.


This is the story of a colleague in the profession of medicine who just collapsed and died in the middle of a working day. No presentiment, perhaps no apprehension – just straight death. At the age of 48 years when dreams abound in the heart, and with a solid 15-20 years of medical practice which means well settled in the business. 48 years means high spirits, tall ambitions, financial success, large social network and opportunities waiting to be taken. However, unknowing to the person himself, mental pressures increase causing adverse effects on the body. Even for a person in the medical profession, just like others, initial symptoms are neglected and ambitions are given top priority. And suddenly like a snake’s hood the disease rises up inside the body, makes a deadly sting and ends a life.


Condolences, consolations follow. For some, such occurrences sometimes are like eye-opener. Everyone becomes an expert on life and living dishing out advice on priorities to be set in life.


However, let us think on a personal level ….. Till the last minute this person who collapsed into the arms of death is obsessed with thoughts of pleasures and dreams and then suddenly his heart stops. His body becomes spiritless and he is no more …… no more suffering, no frustration, no apprehension of death. Perhaps, and I cannot be sure at all, perhaps he senses a strange darkness surround him just like when the power supply is switched off temporarily, and perhaps he waits for the surroundings to brighten again with light. But alas! The light never comes and one sees the stark reality that one has left this material world and entered an unknown arena, a strange new world perhaps … some future life…one is undergoing a mysterious metamorphosis.


Here on earth, colleagues, friends, relatives start thinking about the uncertainty of life. Sadly they ask each other: What is this life? What is the meaning of it all? Is life to be taken away so abruptly? To read volumes of medical textbooks, become an eminent doctor, make so many efforts to save patients lives whilst sweeping aside personal priorities, fulfill expectations of everyone around and then one day suddenly lose it all to death in the prime of one’s life. One is anguished and can only throw ones arms to the heavens and ask: … What is this life?


Who suffers the greatest loss in death? Perhaps only that person who has died. Life goes on for others. Even the seemingly dependent relatives recover over a period of time. In fact they have to, because children have to be fed and educated, aged parents have to be cared for and comforted. One cannot afford to be a victim of agony. Life goes on. The show must go on.


On the other hand, some people think, whatever happened was good for him (who died). He did not die disabled with a diseased, unbearable body. They have always seen him happy and enthusiastic and that is the image of him they remember forever.


Not all are fortunate to get such a death. Some die with long drawn-out intolerable diseases. They do get time to plan and make arrangements for their dependents and to provide them some social and financial security.


But what about those who, after sensing the proximity of death go through extreme emotional turmoil? Being in the medical profession, I have seen many such patients and their sentiments. Generally there are two categories of people: young people who are highly optimistic and are simply not ready to believe that they are near death. In a way, their optimism is their spiritual energy till the end of life; otherwise, they would be left to suffer total depression before actual death and would perhaps surrender to death in extreme agony. In the other category, we see people who have lived long enough and are in the extreme of old age. And this group questions whether the cultural blessings they received from their elders to live a long life is really a boon or a curse?


Is it important to live a long life or a courageous one?


There are those who after reaching their seventies start feeling that they have lived a long life. They start thinking that it is better to die than keep living meaninglessly. Generally this is a thought pattern I find in many of my elderly clients. There are several factors in their life such as pain due to degeneration of joints and various parts of their bodies, their capacity to tolerate the anxieties of daily living, relationships that have ended or fallen apart, a lonely life, the death of their spouse, friends, life-partners and so on. All of these factors greatly contribute to their desire for living or desire to stop living. And in such a condition, if they have to encounter with some deadly disease, it leads to a total collapse of their mental courage.


If we follow the principles of sacrifice, stay engaged in constructive activities, help others, give them comfort, then it will help us greatly to lead a blissful happy life bereft of pessimism. And even if one encounters death while leading this happy life, pray that the death be sudden, without any presentiment. No apprehension of death. Perhaps only the blessed people get to die in such a way. The blessing is not to lead a long life or a healthy one, but to die without apprehension.


Some believe in karma and say that the good deeds of the past life have led to a comfortable death. But, what about the role of the next life? ………. In the next issue perhaps…

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