Wondering about death, particularly our own, is not out of the ordinary as one gets older. But lately I’ve been trying to figure out if there is more, less, or no meaning to violent or agonizing deaths as opposed to slipping away in bed. Is there some added meaning to the deaths of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorism, plane crashes, wars, etc.? Does the fact that they are victims mean anything?
We are all victims of life and what it brings us unsolicited – including death. There are, however, some deaths to which we attach special meaning. We give some kind of special significance to a death attached to heroic acts or to martyrdom for belief in a cause. There would seem to be no more noble death than that in which one lays down one’s life for another. Then too, we attach another kind of meaning to a death caused by execution, or from overdose or drunkenness, or by suicide.
If we consider death as the moment all bodily functions and senses shut down, the way this happens does not alter (except in the eyes of the living) that it happens. Death, to the victim, is death. But to the living it may be heroic, glorious, ignominious, or shameful. Thus it would seem that the way a person dies only has meaning for those who live on after that death. In a way, it’s like life – other people describe it.
To the person him/herself life and death are the mutual realities of existence. What people say or think about my life or about my death is not my life or my death. Very often I believe it is, but I am wrong. What others say or think does not change my “aliveness” or my “deadness.” No matter what others say about my life – I lived! No matter how I die – I died! The one to whom these things matter issomeone else who has his/her own life and death that is not mine. But we may say or think things about each other if our lives or deaths seem somehow noteworthy to us. The pity we feel for victims of violent or untimely deaths and the compassion we feel for their loved ones – is ours! Their death is no more and no less because of what we feel. Therefore, if it was possible, we should be unconcerned about our own death.