Our mortality: not a subject we like to think about. Even though we know with 100% certainty we will die, the acceptance of that fact is not part of our makeup. Even though we know age is not a promise of more life, the younger we are the more remote the concept.
At some point, though, we begin to face our own death. That sensitivity may be caused by a serious illness, disability, or accident in our life, of the life of a family member or close friend. Attending too many memorial services for acquaintances can bring the whole issue to a head. There doesn't seem to be a particular age that trigger the mortality subject, nor can I find any research that implies retirement is a milestone. Actually, it may be just the opposite: a satisfying retirement keeps one focused on life and living to the fullest.
Our reaction to our own mortality can range from panic, anger, fear, and depression, to a calm acceptance based on our faith or realization that running away from the inevitable is a waste of energy. Some folks view life as simply a cycle and at their death they return to the universe the way they started, as a collection of molecules and physical properties (dust to dust). Others have a strong spiritual component that provides a comforting assurance of what lies ahead. Still others firmly believe this life is it. When it ends, it ends. Some religious systems preach reincarnation.
Whatever your view or belief system, even if that includes an unshakable belief in heaven and eternity, death can still be scary. The trip from this life to whatever is next can be filled with lots of unpleasantness if the end is pain-filled.
In an excellent article in Psychology Today, author Nathan Heflick identities several ways humans tend to cope with our mortality. Here are just a few of the more fascinating findings:
1) defend their cultural worldviews more strongly. For instance, to agree less with a person writing negatively about their country, to be more punitive towards moral transgressors.
2) self-enhance and protect self-esteem, such as by agreeing more with positive feedback and taking more credit for success.
3) identify more with members of their own group.
4) show an increased interest in close relationships, and a heightened desire to have children.
5) show a preference for clear, well-structured information and physical environments.
The full article is available by clicking here, but these five points really strike me as quite insightful. My retirement advice writing, research, and interaction with retired folks of all ages supports his findings. Think back to the post I wrote about Becoming a Grumpy Old Person and whether that was an unavoidable consequence of aging. While the comments made the point that no, such a condition isn't predestined, we will all admit it happens. Reviewing the five points above, it is obvious some of them would lend themselves to such a mindset.
There are several web sites I found that give suggestions on what we should do to prepare ourselves and others for the inevitable. I have them listed below. But, the purpose of this post is to simply ask you to consider, if even for a moment, what your mortality means to you now that you have less than half your life ahead of you.
Does this awareness cause you to act any differently? Do you embrace what comes next or do you fight, with all your being, the thought that you will someday cease to exist, and the world will go on just fine without you? Does the realization that 99.999999% of the world won't know or care when you are no longer here upset you?
How do we face that? What do we do to make this journey meaningful? What do we do, as the Bible's Paul tells us, to "finish strong"?
Facing your own mortality
Coping with impending death
How we cope with death
Create meaning by facing our own mortality
Facing the fear of death
The only comfort I can share is the reality that every single one of us will go through this process. If there is one experience that every human shares it is this one. Anything we feel, or fear, or rebel against, we have good company: all of human kind!