People are weird about death. For a long time I’ve been perplexed by the actions and ideas of most people around it. Having chosen to euthanize both of our old dogs in the last three weeks, the latest one yesterday, it seems like a good time to write down some of my disparate thoughts on the subject.
The Truth Doesn’t Hurt
First, let’s deal this whole ridiculous idea of souls and an afterlife. There’s no such things. While there are myriad convincing arguments against their existence, here’s an easy one: What most people think of when they consider who they are, i.e. their concept of “me”, is based upon their memories, personality and values. All evidence indicates that these are products of the brain. There’s absolutely no reason to suspect they your “me” exists independent of your brain. Just look at someone who has suffered a brain injury and undergone a radical personality change and, perhaps, lost significant portions of their memory. Why would a “me” independent of the brain change with the injury? Which “me”, the pre or post injury one, would the soul reflect and which one would live on in the afterlife? The whole concept of eternal life is merely wishful thinking fueled by narcissism. Once your brain ceases to function, you cease to exist. Get over it.
I have absolutely no fear of my own death. I enjoy being alive and don’t want to hasten it or anything but realizing that, once dead, I will simply not be, is rather comforting. The idea that you’d remain aware of the trials and pains of your surviving loved ones while being unable to do anything to help them sounds like hell to me. And the whole creepy Christian idea (which many of them seem to psychopathically revel in) that one might live an idyllic afterlife in paradise while knowing that others, including friends and loved ones, are being eternally tortured for “sins” as unremarkable as finding the evidence for god’s existence lacking, is truly disgusting. Mark Twain, another staunch atheist, got it right when he said “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
You Only Kill the Ones You Love
While I don’t fear my death, I do fear the suffering, physical or psychological, that often precedes death. This outlook made decisions regarding ending our dogs’ lives much easier for me. As, Henry, at 14, descended into dementia, he became more and more anxious but, for a long while, he still enjoyed walks and he’d be calm while cuddling with us in bed or on the couch. A couple of nights ago, however, he suddenly became extremely distraught. Whining, pacing, and howling. He had never howled before in his life. He was inconsolable. I took him for a walk/run which made it clear that he wasn’t in physical pain. He had simply lost his mind. Yesterday, after a restless night and seeing no change in the morning, my wife and I made an appointment with the vet and had him lovingly killed. No, he wasn’t put to sleep, he didn’t “pass on” or “go to a better place”…he was killed. And it was the right thing to do. Yes, it made us sad but keeping him alive and suffering because we didn’t have the balls to kill him would have been cruel and selfish. When I’ve found myself momentarily wondering if we should have done it, I merely think “If he were still alive right now, he would be crying and howling in obvious confusion and fear”. Obviously, it’s better that he is not experiencing that.
Why is it that we can’t treat our human loved ones as well as we treat our non-human ones? My wife and I have discussed at length our desires to be “put out of our misery” should we find ourselves in terminal mental or physical anguish. Should I be unable to communicate, I absolutely trust her judgement in determining whether I should be euthanized. Unfortunately, our laws, heavily influenced by an arbitrary and cruel religious “morality” would imprison her for showing compassion.
Death Becomes Us
Death is far from the worst thing that can happen to a person or animal. I don’t actually consider death to be a tragedy for the person who has died. Yes, any pain or fear they may have suffered while dying is tragic as is the very real grief of those who loved them. But, once you’re dead, you’re dead. That you don’t exist to, say, see your kid get married isn’t a tragedy for you any more than it is for your great great grandfather who also doesn’t exist to see it. It’s only a tragedy for those left behind. To the dead, their death is a non-event…just like everything else.
Dead Men Don’t Talk
Yeah, I get it that we need wills to provide some sort of process to distribute people’s wealth when they die. What I don’t get is this idea that one has to honour the wishes of the deceased beyond one’s legal obligations. Spending a whole bunch of what used to be the dead person’s money on an elaborate funeral, for example, is fine if that’s what the surviving friends and family want. But doing it because the dead guy/gal wanted a big funeral is silly. They no longer care. They’re dead. Using the saved money to ease real world suffering or even just improve one’s lot in life is a far more rational choice than trying to please someone who no longer exists.
While I may, at times, be legally bound to abide by the former wishes of a former person, I don’t feel any moral or ethical obligation to do so. They ceased to have rights upon their death. If someone had asked me to, say, ensure their money is donated to the Ku Klux Klan upon their death, I wouldn’t do it. Something doesn’t become the “right thing to do” because some dead guy decreed it…that’s a lazy, religious-style morality.
Please Take Out the Trash
I really don’t get that whole fetish people have for rotting sacks of flesh. When someone’s brain shuts down, their body begins to decay almost instantly. Having it embalmed and put on display seems rather ghoulish to me. At best, this odd reverence for festering meat just adds needless expense and, at worst, feeds the belief of crazies in the “sanctity” of a corpse such that they refuse the harvesting of organs. I’ve made it clear to my wife that, after any useful bits are removed, she can do whatever she wishes with “me”. If the medical school won’t have me, just dump me in the compost bin. I won’t care because I’ll be fucking dead.
Death is sad for those left behind but reason is an excellent tool to temper one’s natural emotional response and enable yourself to make good decisions in troubling times. Feel good nonsense may be temporarily mollifying but, in the long run, will cloud one’s judgement when having to make tough decisions involving death.
“The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” – Albert Einstein
“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” – Mark Twain