I gingerly picked up on this topic a few years back. I recounted then that quite a few people I had discussed issues around dying with did not seem to have what is often taken to be a standard, egocentric sense of great loss that dying would seem, paradoxically, to bring. (It’s paradoxical because the dead person is no longer in a position to suffer the loses.) Rather, many people I had spoken to were worried about the harms and losses visited on those whom they would leave behind.
One conclusion might be to say that there is no one kind of bad thing about dying. What one doesn’t want to happen will depend on all sorts of other things. But what I have started wondering is whether there need be anything bad about dying. Might not one feel a complete enough individual with a quite good account of how one has used one’s talents and worked to overcome adversity that one could be rather content to leave now, or five or ten years hence. The point being that one feels one’s done a lot.
What happened to me to raise this question was that I had developed a very bad abdominal infection and had to have emergency surgery. It was close to life-threatening, and so I ended up reflecting on what it would be like had it actually been life threatening. “Well, whatever,” I thought, as I fell back asleep full to the gills with narcotic pain killers and intravenous antibios.
Because of those circumstances, I don’t for a minute want to make this about me or my life’s experiences, still less my accomplishes. Rather, I think that if one’s feelings are skewed by a lot of pills, one shouldn’t draw on them to reach a large conclusion. Still, it seems a sensible question that can be asked. Is there a sense of completeness that can leave one fairly calm in the face of death?
What about those one leaves behind? In the case of an older academic who agreed with Alva Noe’s view about stopping with one child, that child may have inherit enough to quite drastically change their control over their life’s circumstances. And one may be leaving one’s partner embedded in a supportive community.
In this case, is death so awful? My whole life I have thought of death as a pretty terrible curse. But need it be? Of course, death might be preferable to years of severe pain, but might death also be not to be feared in some fairly ordinary circumstances.