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My grandfather died today. He was almost 94 years old, and had been slowly slipping away from us for years – dementia was taking its toll. He had a good life – the sort of life any human being would be content with and proud of. He helped America win WWII. He taught typing. He taught at and helped run a school for disabled kids (he was so proud of me when I became a teacher). He ran his own business. He raised 3 kids who raised 5 kids who are raising 7 kids (and counting). He had a loving marriage of almost 70 years. Wouldn’t you know, he was a heavy smoker for the whole of it, too? Go figure.

In short – he lived a good life. But now – no matter how long and happy it was – it’s over. Done. Gone. All that he was has disappeared into history, only to live on in our memories and the collective memory of the human race.

He is gone. One day, I too will be gone.

And so will you.

Can you comprehend that? I mean, REALLY comprehend that? The fact that – one day – you will not exist?

Doesn’t it scare the shit out of you? It scares the shit out of me.

Every time in my life that I have truly, deeply sat with the realisation that I am going to die, I feel an overwhelming, heart-wrenching, gut-clenching terror.

I don’t think there is anything that compares to that feeling.

I remember – back in my late teens, when I was studying various religions as part of one of my undergraduate degrees (I was doing 2 simultaneously, Arts and Science) – I did a Buddhist death meditation. If you ever want to really exist with the realisation of your death, give that a go. It’s pretty brutal, but breathtaking all at once. Why is it so powerful?

Contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are regarded as very important in Buddhism for two reasons : (1) it is only by recognising how precious and how short life is that we are most likely to make it meaningful and to live it fully and (2) by understanding the death process and familiarizing ourself with it, we can remove fear at the time of death and ensure a good rebirth. Buddhanet.

Now, I don’t hold to the second part of that statement – but oh, oh, the first part is what we should take away with us in the depths of our heart. We should nurture that realisation like the most precious of delicate flowers.

I think perhaps you’ve gathered by now that I am not a religious person. I do not believe in any sort of afterlife, god, goddess, divine spirit, etc. I believe that when we die, our body shuts down, our mind along with it, and we break down and our atoms once again become one with the Universe. Everything we were, thought, dreamed, believed, loved, hated, and did ends when we do. All that continues on is the work we leave behind and the lives we touched.

Some people recoil at that notion. As we should – it’s horrifying. However, just because it’s horrifying doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. Quite the opposite.

Heaven is a beautiful fallacy – one we dreamed up in time immemorial because we simply could not comprehend that we will end.

I know people say ‘well, think about a time before you were born, when you didn’t exist. You aren’t upset about not being alive then – being dead will be no different.’ And – to a point – I agree with this logic. Truthfully, once I’m dead, I won’t care, because there won’t be a me TO care.

The failure in this logic is that before I was born I wasn’t around to KNOW it, so of course it didn’t bother me not to exist. However, now that I am a breathing, eating, computer-using, car-driving, thinking member of the human race, the thought of not being bothers me very, very much. I really dig life, you know? I’d like to hang out here for as long as I can.

In truth – it was only when I concluded the religious and spiritual exploration of my 20s (this happened in 2007) – when I came full-circle back to the way I grew up – without religion – that I truly started to live.

Why?

Because it was at that point that I really, truly knew that this life was the only chance I was going to get.

There is no do-over. No second chance. No eternal heaven of peace and happiness (which, when you really think about it, sounds kinda crazy-making, doesn’t it? I mean, what would you DO all day/night…whatever? Is there even day and night in heaven? But I digress…).

I only have so many years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Every moment I get older. Every moment brings me closer to my death – to the end of my existence.

So why ON EARTH would I waste any of it?

Why stay in a job I hated, that stressed me out?

Why stay in a relationship that was fraught with friction?

Why hold on things, thoughts, and ways of being that didn’t fulfil me and make me happy?

Why indeed?

That moment – that realisation – was what truly started me on this path I find myself walking today.

The fear of death is a powerful motivator.

It wakes us up. It makes us realise that every day we sleepwalk through is another day lost. A day we will never get back.

That’s why I believe we SHOULD fear death. We should spend some time sitting with the fact that we will die. It is inevitable. Nothing you can do will ever change that fact. Nothing.

However – you DO have the power to make that realisation count for something. To use it to wake yourself out of your habitual slumber. To motivate you to get shit done RIGHT NOW. Because every day you delay is another day of your life that is gone forever.

And you’ll never get a second chance.

It’s time to wake up. Before the day comes that you never wake up again.

{Note on comments: I realise that many of you who do believe in some sort of afterlife will disagree with me, and that’s cool. I only ask that 1) you don’t leave a comment trying to convert or pity me and 2) that any comment you leave is constructive. Thanks in advance for being awesome.}