Dealing with death



Tom Barrett

Watching a loved one die is a hard thing to do. A year ago my grandpa – the buddy with whom I’d watch Mets games, the man I’d take grocery shopping a couple times a week, personally chauffeur to his lady friend’s house on some weekends and drive home from my house after he had had a few beers while he laughed like the merry little old Irishman he was – had a stroke. The following months saw a slow and painful decline in his condition after infections followed complications and so on. When it first happened, he was a bit slow talking and couldn’t sit up by himself, and by the end he was a frail frame of who he used to be. I was never sure if he even knew we were in the room with him.

He passed in the middle of January, and though part of me was relieved that his suffering was finally over, the rest of me was bursting at the seams with the questions that death tends to leave in those left behind. I couldn’t shake those last images of him: his skinny legs and random spasms, his half-open jaw that weak to formulate the few words that would occasionally make their way from his mind to his mouth, his vacant stare that never seemed to meet my eyes. Was this how life ends to for those of us lucky enough to avoid the other countless perils along the way? What was the point of it all?

These thoughts spun my head in circles until I had a memorable conversation with my father. He told me that my grandfather, when he was still healthy, would tell him that he was not afraid of death – that he had lived a long, full life and was grateful for all that he experienced and all the love that he was able to share with my grandmother, his kids and his grandchildren.

This short yet powerful talk shifted my thoughts. Instead of focusing on what I had lost, I began trying to look at my life the way my grandfather had looked at his. I accepted the fact that I was mortal and that one day I, too, would die. I looked at my own life and realized that I will one day lose everything I have and everyone I know and love. But instead of dreading the day when that will happen, I began looking at everything I had with infinite gratitude for being able to have it all. This new perspective was indescribably liberating.

Since then, I have been thinking more about the idea of death and how most of us are scared senseless by it. This fear, however, is a waste of time and energy. There is absolutely no way around it: We are all going to die. As morbid as that last sentence may sound, it’s important that we accept this simple, natural, unavoidable fact of life.

There is good news, however. You still have the choice and ability to make the most out of the life you have been given. You can still take time to appreciate the little things we all take for granted: being able to go on a walk, enjoying a good meal, spending time with close friends or making new ones, listening to music, doodling, calling a family member.

Yes, death is inevitable, and yes, life is short. Just remember, your life will only be as worthwhile as you make it. Don’t fear death. Love life.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].