On Embracing Death, and the Life You Have Left

 

Recently, I had the good fortune to meet a remarkable person online. I don’t know her name, I don’t know where she lives; in fact, I only know two things about her. The first is that she’s 13. The second is that she may never turn 14.

 

This girl is suffering from a brutal combination of illnesses: Friedreich’s ataxia, and cardiomyopathy. Unfortunately, they’re also comorbid, which means that one increases the likelihood and effectiveness of the other. She found out about her lethal cocktail of genetics when she collapsed and her best friend had to give her CPR. Because puberty wasn’t hard enough.

 

Because of her diseases, she can’t walk well. She can’t do most things that a typical 13 year old girl would be able to do. She says her friends have distanced themselves, not wanting to end up more hurt than they already will by her passing. Her mom, she says, keeps up a strong mask, but it’s breaking. She feels alone. And bitter. Bitter that her body betrayed her this way, and bitter that nobody seems to be able to step up and be there for her, the sufferer. So, in a desperate attempt to connect to people again, she did an AMA on reddit, where she dropped this gem:

 

“You are finite. Everything around you will cease to exist one day, buried under many layers of time, forgotten, never to be retrieved.
Live, knowing that you are finite. Don’t take advantage of everything around you. Live in the way that you want to, but make sure everything around you does so too. But be free in it.”

 

This girl has suffered more in her 13 years than many of us have in three times as long. And while this may read like a nihilistic musing of a condemned teen, I take it differently. I don’t see it as a musing on the ephemera of life, I see it as a reinforcement of our time here. Life IS finite. At some point, every one of us will die. As one artist put it:

In less than 100 years, every single one of your Facebook friends will be dead. Your life, your impact upon this planet, upon this community, cannot be measured in likes…

We can’t measure our life by how many friends we had, how many people will cry when we’re gone. If we want meaning, we have to go deeper than sharing and liking. We need to affect someone so deeply that they write about it, that they remember it, even after they’ve forgotten who it was that affected them, and we need to turn ideas that could threaten what gods there be into reality. We don’t have time on our side. You most likely have between 20 and 50 years left in your life to affect someone deeply enough that they carry it to THEIR grave and pass it on to someone else before they die. Nothing else you do matters.

Live the best you can. And let others live the best they can. Because in the end, no one will go back and look at the small things you’ve done, the bands you follow, the selfies you posted. But someday, your words can be written in stone. Someday, your actions can be recounted around a fire, to someone’s grandkids. Someday, someone else might pick up your torch and start a movement that can shake the world to its core. That someday probably won’t happen in your lifetime. But that doesn’t mean it’s not yours. On the contrary: That’s the only way you guarantee that your spirit, your message, whatever change you may enact lives on in this world.

 

Things don’t affect me deeply very often. I don’t write unless there’s something important to be said. Hearing this from a dying child is sobering. Don’t waste your time. Whether that means finding your grind, overcoming vice, or even just chronicling your journey to find yourself, use the minutes that you have to impact someone or something. Otherwise, you were never here, and so what’s the point?

 

Song of the Week: To Young Leaders, by Guante & Big Cats

 

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On the Ethics of Suicide

 This one’s going to be a bit dark, but bear with me: there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a topic that sits close to my heart, due to both my own experiences and those of people close to me, and also one that only really gets bandied about behind the scenes, never out in the open.
A friend who is uncannily wise for his age told me this a while back, while I was struggling with crippling depression and afraid that I was going to end up committing suicide. This is what he told me:

When it comes to suicide, I think one of the most common contributing factors is fear. And it’s not the logical fear that you think would cause suicide — that you’re afraid of the life ahead of you so you end it now. It’s the fear of suicide, and of death. We tend to feel, as living things, that we must go on living. It’s a natural survival instinct and that’s because our consciousness is simply an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us alive. Now I want you to think to yourself: is your purpose – the reason you exist – to keep on existing? To pass on your genetic information? Because that’s what your consciousness is designed to do. That’s why you have fear. Know that your purpose in life is your choice.
You don’t have to keep on living. You just don’t. It is the fact that you feel that you MUST go on – that it would be simply unacceptable to die, you CANT die – that makes you afraid of it. You can choose to kill yourself. It is entirely your choice. The universe will keep expanding, the world will keep spinning, and as much as it may cause suffering for those close to you, their lives will go on. Depression, suicide, and death are inseparable from the human experience and it’s been that way since the dawn of humanity. 
There’s no need to be afraid of death. Your death will only slightly impact the world, really only those closest to you, and they will have to deal with the deaths of many others as their lives go on. It’s just part of life. You won’t experience death, just as you didn’t experience anything before you were born. It is no different than going to sleep and never waking up. 
So then, if you can come to the point where you understand you really can kill yourself if you want, that it really wouldn’t be so bad, well then you stop being afraid that you might, cause it’s ok if you do.
But why would you?

Because it would make the lives of those around you easier? That doesn’t make any sense at all, you’ll cause them intense suffering with residual suffering for years to come. And of course it’s within your rights to do that if you really want to, you’re entitled to end your life if you want, but don’t kid yourself that it would make their lives better.

Aside from that, if you aren’t the cause of their problems something else would be. Life is suffering. It’s just endless trials and tribulations. Problems and stress and so on. Those things are inseparable from life. Even if you’re rich and have all your needs taken care of, your problems will be spiritual and emotional. Everyone suffers. But a lot of people do it alone. Not everyone is so lucky as to have people they love and are loved by to suffer alongside.

If you think you’re causing them problems, then think realistically about ways to help, because suicide wouldn’t. 

Know that the circumstances of the universe put you where you are and them where they are and it isn’t either of your faults, and all either of you can do is decide how to cope with it.
Finally, think about the reasons why you want to live. Not reasons you SHOULD live, or SHOULDNT KILL YOURSELF. Because you shouldn’t do shit. There’s no reason you have to or should do anything. You CAN do anything you want. Anything. You have complete freedom, don’t convince yourself you can’t. You can kill yourself, you can go on a mall shooting spree, you can rob a bank, you can quit your job, leave your life behind, pack your bags, hitchhike cross country, and live in Alaska IF you WANT. Nothing is stopping you.
Just decide what you want. Do you really want to die? Or do you really want to master kungfu? Learn an instrument? Settle down and start a family? Leave your wife and become a swinger? Or just continue with the life you have with the knowledge you’re doing it because you want to.
There is so much, SO much to do and see in this world, and life is short. You’re gonna die at the end anyway, so why rush it? This is your only chance to live in this world, so enjoy it while you can and then enjoy death when it’s time for that.
Find the things you think are beautiful, pursue the things that inspire passion. Just do the shit that makes life feel worth it. If really nothing does then kill yourself, that’s ok too. It’s your choice.

Despite seeming downright fatalistic for much of the lecture, in the end, it helped. And I believe the reason that it helped was because he shied away from the standard “you have so much to offer, don’t kill yourself” pitch that usually permeates speeches designed to talk someone down from the edge. The speech presented a choice: kill yourself, or don’t. Just a small thing, but one that made a lot of difference.
The reason the choice is so imperative to the entire message is because it hands a measure of control back to the sufferer, and with control comes power over the situation. With power comes responsibility, and it’s easy to shirk that when it feels like the world has it out for you. You’re forced to consider the repercussions from an outside and objective perspective, which in turn forces you to consider the fact that people may, in fact, care. And sometimes that’s all it takes.

That said, there’s a real grain of hard truth in there; there really is little that ending your life would affect, on a global scale. There’s little that living your life would probably affect as well. Therefore, you can’t use the world as an excuse either way. The world doesn’t care if you live or die. Life will go on for everyone except those closest to you, and eventually for them as well, which means we need to really narrow this down to the microcosm of your life in order to study effects.

Now, let’s look at family and close friends. I think this sums it up better than I can, and hopefully it’s the most impactful part of the entire rant for those who think, for whatever reason, that they’d be helping by removing themselves:

Because it would make the lives of those around you easier? That doesn’t make any sense at all, you’ll cause them intense suffering with residual suffering for years to come. And of course it’s within your rights to do that if you really want to, you’re entitled to end your life if you want, but don’t kid yourself that it would make their lives better.

Aside from that, if you aren’t the cause of their problems something else would be. Life is suffering. It’s just endless trials and tribulations. Problems and stress and so on. Those things are inseparable from life. Even if you’re rich and have all your needs taken care of, your problems will be spiritual and emotional. Everyone suffers. But a lot of people do it alone. Not everyone is so lucky as to have people they love and are loved by to suffer alongside.

If you consider the fact that you would in fact be harming those closest to you, then the only right and honorable route to take is to keep living and keep fighting. Yes, this road contains roots. It contains sharp rocks that will hurt and will make it difficult to move forward. But it will hurt less in the end for those you seek to protect.

Unless, of course, you’re lying.

That happens as well. Its an easy justification and a way to push yourself away from the immediate situation so that you can allow your detachment to blur the lines. If you can convince yourself that you can help by dying, it makes it much more palatable. It’s not true, but it’s a respite from the negativity. You have to fight that. If you’re going to end your life, be honest with yourself and those around you about why. Otherwise your death is meaningless.
Which brings me to my final point: provided you have your reasons straight, there’s no moral reason, outside of religious beliefs, why you should continue living a life that isn’t edifying or otherwise beneficial to you or others. As he so eloquently puts above:

 Because you shouldn’t do shit. There’s no reason you have to or should do anything.

Again, barring a religious code, there’s really no reason that one should or shouldn’t do anything they don’t want to. It all comes down to the individual. If, after working through these steps, after understanding that the world doesn’t really care if you stay or go, after realizing that your death won’t help those close to you in any way,  after dispelling any false reasonings, and after realizing that you have no obligation to stay in this world if you don’t want to, you still want to kill yourself, by all means. The logistics don’t add up, but you’re your own person, and you can make your own decisions.
“…logistics?”

There is so much, SO much to do and see in this world, and life is short. You’re gonna die at the end anyway, so why rush it? This is your only chance to live in this world, so enjoy it while you can and then enjoy death when it’s time for that.

You’re only wasting your own time. We have approximately 30,000 days on this earth, at best. Would you cancel a bank account and give up all the money you had saved in there just because you wanted to move to a different city? Same principle. Wait for the payoff. Sometimes the processing fees take a while. But you can leave with nothing or leave with everything, knowing that you gave it your all. You can leave 24,000 days in the bank, just sitting there for eternity, or you can go out and play an instrument until your fingers bleed. You can dance until you collapse, you can help people until you run out of people to help, you can fly a rocket to the moon or read every book at the library. You can show other people who might be struggling that it’s possible to make it through and that they can make a difference, even if it’s small.

Just do the shit that makes life feel worth it. If really nothing does then kill yourself, that’s ok too. It’s your choice.”




Regardless of how you feel, you and anyone you know who may be feeling suicidal deserve to have access to help. Our comments section is always open, as is our inbox. There’s also the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255 for our American readers. Don’t be afraid to reach out. There are people who can help, and they (we) will take you seriously. You only have one life. Make sure you consider all the options before you give it away.
~Stefan Bakshir