Somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of death. Not my death, but the death of the people and the animals I loved. I became conscious of the fact that we would all die, and that meant that the day would come when I would have to say goodbye to my parents. When I married Ed, who was fifteen years my senior, it became likely that I would outlive him, too. There were times when I thought that perhaps I would get lucky and I would die first. But I never wanted my parents to have that experience. And because I knew how much Ed loved me, I never wanted him to have that experience, either.
Depending on who your teachers are and who you sit with, becoming a Buddhist can be like training for death. If you follow the lesson on impermanence all the way to its natural conclusion, it is not just your thoughts and emotions that are rising and falling. Everything is rising and falling. Every one of us rises and ultimately falls.
You would do well to spend time considering death. Thinking that this could be your last day. That this could be the last day of someone you love. The purpose of this is not to dwell in a place of morbidity, but to appreciate the preciousness of the life that you have been given. To be born as a human being is a gift. In this lifetime, you are able to practice the dharma. When you die, you might lose this opportunity.
It is not just good times and bad times that will pass; we will, too. It is useful to work with the phrase, “We too shall pass.” “I too shall pass;” “Mom and Dad too shall pass;” “Ed too shall pass.”
I came to realize that what I really feared was being left behind by the people I loved, being without them. I also began to understand that spending time being afraid that this would happen was of no use. It was going to happen. I did not know when or who would die first, but I was not facing uncertainty.
Slowly, I began to allow myself to think about the deaths of my loved ones. Instead of chasing these thoughts away, I learned to welcome them. To meditate on the death of my father was to help me experience his death in advance. This meditation was a way of preparing me for the deep sadness I would feel when he really did die. I came to a point where I became comfortable accepting that the people I loved would die, and that it would be difficult, but that I would be able to face it.
People are going to die. This is beyond your control. To be in a constant state of agitation over this truth will only ruin the time that you have. Denial will just make the moment of their deaths more difficult. It is better for you to live with the knowledge and understanding that death will come. It will be difficult, but you will be OK. Love your friends and family, and enjoy your time with them while they are here.
There is, in fact, nothing to fear, because death is coming. There is no reason for you to live in fear of something that is a certainty. Live in acceptance of that certainty and prepare yourself. Of course, this is easier said than done.