I wanted to examine the various rationale behind why people, in today’s Western society, feel how they do around death. Why is everyone so solemn at a funeral? Why is conversation over death hushed? And why do people grieve over their loved ones when they die?
My thesis is that people ought not to feel this way at all. And that we do for no apparent reason. Is sadness about the thought that the deceased person will no longer participate in our lives? Is it sympathy? Or is it something else? Let’s examine these quickly.
Loss of participation – We understand that when someone dies, they can no longer participate in our lives. They can no longer exist in the present or future but only the past. When we feel sadness at a funeral, is it because we will no longer be able to share new experiences together? Is it the dawning realisation that we took their existence for granted? They can no longer be a utility to us in any way. I think this is the most logical reason to feel sadness at a funeral but it’s still fundamentally illogical. We should realise fully that everyone around us is going to die sooner or later and that it simply cannot be a wretched or horrible event at all. It would be similar to the fear of growing older. It will happen and there’s no avoiding it. So there’s no reason to fear it. If we completely attune ourselves to this, we should no longer experience this sadness or sorrow towards someone’s death.
Sympathy for the dead – I feel like this is the least logical reason to be solemn at a funeral and yet contributes greatly to the cocktail of emotion we feel over death. If, at death, the complete dissipation of the ego is true, one should not feel sympathetic for a dead person’s withdrawal from society. We automatically assert that being in a state of “anything but alive and breathing” is immediately a terrible predisposition to have. When in actual fact, being dead is therefore a stateless position and cannot be compared to that of being alive. The only logical reason to feel sympathy for the dead is if we had reason to believe they’d be sent to a hellish place where more suffering takes place.
Painful death – If someone was tortured to death, we might be able to justify being upset at death. What we must understand, however, is that being tortured and living is almost always going to be worse than being tortured to death. When one is no longer alive, the pain and discomfort isn’t so much relieved as it is no longer existent. The thoughts and memories of painful suffering the dead person went through dissolve in a manner such that it never happened in the first place (due to the abstraction of time and ego after death) . Of course, this relies on my theory of death to be the true outcome of death, which seems entirely reasonable and is quite popular today. It would seem very unlikely that even if consciousness permeated the barrier of death, that any state of perpetual suffering or pain would continue for eternity. Logically, one should feel more grief over someone who was tortured and has to continue their suffering with chronic pain and PTSD.
In most cases, our loved one won’t experience an acutely painful death. They’ll often die immediately (car crash), be unconscious for their death, or will die gradually in dampened pain thanks to modern medicine (cancer). So logically, in almost all cases, we cannot rely on the painful death theory. And once we realise fully that the loss of a close friend or loved one’s participation from our life is purely an introverted motivation to be upset, we should also rule this out. I mentioned earlier how ridiculous it would be to feel sympathy for a dead person and so we’re left with zero rational reasons to feel sadness around death. I think we do it because we’re told it’s proper etiquette to be sad which is quite irrational indeed.