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September 01 2019

Dying is just part of the cycle of life, writes Mat Amp

Without an end, there would be no beginning. That’s why I feel that until we accept the inevitability of death, the necessity of it, we can’t really live to our full potential.

Until we accept our inevitable demise, we’re going to find it difficult to deal with the loss. When someone dies there are often issues that are left unresolved and this is especially true of sudden and tragic deaths.

It can be awful to watch someone we love die slowly, but at least it gives us the opportunity to say what needs to be said. Losing someone close can be a great lesson in letting go, in acceptance if you like. Once you accept there is nothing you can do about this, and you stop struggling against the inevitable then you are ready to die… More importantly once you’re ready to die you’re ready to start living.  Part of my journey has seen me lose everything a few times. That’s what a self-destruct button does. But it wasn’t just the material things that I had to lose. I had to lose my marbles too as well as having my spirit broken. Only then could I see outside of myself and start to appreciate the real value of this fragile, exquisite existence.

Losing people in tragic circumstances can leave us scared to love. How does the saying go – “Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.” (Yehuda HaLevi) The fear that someone might die on us, can stop us letting go and truly loving someone.  Break-ups can be a major cause of homelessness, and breaking up with someone can be as painful as having them die. You may have to deal with rejection and self-loathing, especially if they’ve kicked you out because of your drug or alcohol use.

More recently I’ve started to lose good friends with an alarming regularity. As someone who has been a homeless junky in the past, I have a lot of friends in the same boat. It’s not a lifestyle conducive to a long and prosperous life, and so it seems that every few months now somebody I know well passes away.

These deaths I find hard to cope with because at the end of the day they are so unnecessary. Overdoses could be totally avoided with proper substance regulation or legislation. And it’s nothing short of criminal that people are dying in their mid40s as the result of being homeless in one of the richest countries in the world.
Self-medicating as a response to grief is a bad idea because it just means we’re hiding from necessary emotions, bottling them up and not dealing with them. Doctors have been playing this game for nearly 50 years now, prescribing strong anti-depressants for grief, which is, after all, a natural human response to losing someone.

As a result, we think we can control sadness rather than embrace it as a healthy and necessary response to sad things happening to us. Dolly Parton pointed out the balance of human emotions when she quipped: “Everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain, but you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.” We can’t really be happy unless we know how to deal with sadness. We can’t hide from the pain, and nor should we want to.

Saying goodbye properly is important and that’s why we have funerals. Funerals are not the end of the grieving process but rather the beginning of it. They give family and friends the opportunity to share memories of the person who has just died, but they also make sure that we accept someone’s death.

Western culture has a relationship with death that more or less involves gagging it and locking it up in a cellar, out of sight and out of mind. But sadness and grief are inevitable. I’ll leave you with words from The Tibetan book of Living and Dying: “Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are.”

In a nutshell

  • Being clear that you are not around forever is a good way to be sure to live to your full potential.
  • To be fully happy you need to know how to cope with pain.
  • No one should be dying young because they’ve been homeless.
  • Be willing to say goodbye – that’s how funerals can help start the grieving process.