The pandemic has brought an uncomfortable topic to the forefront of our consciousness, a topic that many would prefer to avoid rather than confront head-on: dying.
Our frontline workers and affected families have been close, uncomfortably so, to death every day for months now. It runs rampant in the chirons of our media, yet it’s treated with fear or an attitude of disdain or both. Most of us when asked would probably truthfully admit that we’re made uncomfortable by death. But Covid has done a favor of sorts to our cultural attitude around this topic, in that we’ve realized our obsession with death as a result of Covid reveals just how uncomfortable we are with mortality.
A Paradoxical Discourse
For many of us, a global pandemic has reintroduced the possibility of death and our own mortality into our lives. Aside from the death of a loved one, many of us never have to really confront it on a daily basis.
But the entire crux of the Covid-related attitude towards death is in fact a paradox. Now, more than ever, we should be open and honest about the inevitability of death and the ending of our own lives, but if anything, this pandemic has made us more scared, not less, of that end result.
It’s not the Covid virus we’re afraid of. It’s dying.
Death, like any other hard truth in life such as abuse or trauma, does not discriminate. It doesn’t prefer the poor over the wealthy or the uneducated over the educated. Each and every one of us, some day, will die. But as evidenced by our culture, death is a touchy subject to say the least, and most of us will do anything to avoid it.
Our media is hammering into its audiences how close death really is to us, how at any moment we could be affected by it, whether it’s ourselves or the people closest to us. Yet their treatment of it hinges on fearmongering and emotional manipulation, not acceptance or respect for the essential truth of what it is. Numbers are conflated and those who have succumbed to the virus are manipulated into being the poster children for stricter mask mandates and higher vaccination rates. 78% of people hospitalized for Covid were obese or overweight, yet the unvaccinated and the maskless are blamed for these hospitalizations.
It’s not the virus we’re afraid of, though. It’s dying.
The Decline of Religion and the Rise of Fear
It’s no word of a lie that religion in the U.S., especially Christianity, is on the decline. It’s passé to hold traditional values, or to be religious, or to raise your children religiously, or to adhere to your faith well into adulthood. The media is at the helm of this ridicule, and they reinforce its narratives as often as they can.
Never mind that individuals who characterize themselves as actively religious tend to describe themselves as happier and as more participatory in elections and charity work than their nonreligious counterparts. Organized religion is simply not the centerfold of life as it used to be.
Understandably, those who aren’t religious probably have little to no conceptualization of life after death. For them, this current life is all they have, and so why wouldn’t they do absolutely everything to protect it?
For many, Covid is the predominant threat to the only life they believe they will ever have.
This results in the fervor and frenzy we’re seeing around Covid. For many, Covid is the predominant threat to the only life they’ve had or believe they will ever have. With that at the forefront of their decision-making, it’s no wonder they advocate for masking small children in schools or firing employees who refuse to get vaccinated. They genuinely believe that these careless, thoughtless individuals will be the ones responsible for their end of life.
Never mind that death was always an inevitability before Covid, sooner or later. Data show that more healthy people under 50 in England died from car accidents than they did from Covid in 2020. As pathologist Dr. John Lee confirms, “When that context is understood, and when we start to accept death as a natural endpoint and quality of life as a vital consideration, today’s morbid climate of fear seems far from justified.”
We Can Accept Our Mortality, and We Should
In discussing the importance of our own mortality, we can learn how to better enjoy our lives and how to live well.
So how do we even begin to go about confronting our mortality? We’re already talking about it, but the angle of the conversation needs to change. When we create mysticism around death and relegate it to something as “unknown,” untouchable, or something to be afraid of, we give it power over us, thereby motivating us to spend our days living in fear. Living in fear is not the key to living well.
Living in fear is not the key to living well.
Even if we aren’t religious, we can spend time being contemplative or practicing mindfulness about our mortality. We don’t have to believe in a higher power to acknowledge the eventual end of our lives, or to realize that means we should live well.
More basic than each of these choices is simply the acknowledgement of death as a reality. So many of us are hyper-focused on preventing death, whether through being excessively healthy or through pursuing superficial excitement and pleasure which have no real significance. We can accept its reality by talking about it with our children, celebrating the lives of our loved ones who’ve passed on, and by waking up each day grateful for a new chance to be a better person.
Beyond the distractions of mandates, masks, and vaccinations, the Covid debate at heart is really about our discomfort as a culture with death. In the past two years, we’ve acted as though death is something that’s never happened to us, though it’s been an inescapable outcome for all since the dawn of humanity.
Death will happen to each of us. It isn’t incorrect, frightening, or disturbing to say so. The only thing frightening about death is that we’ve manipulated it into something we should supposedly be terrified of, something that’s supposedly controlled by the apparent carelessness of others. It’s only natural to fear the unknown, but when we make death an accepted reality, and something that we acknowledge daily, we take away that fear.
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