After death comes life
This past week an entire nation has contemplated the passing of the late, great, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
I am one of those people who think about death a lot.
Not because I am morbid. It's just that death seems to be of central significance to our lives.
So often we live pretending death isn't a part of life.
They say that successful people begin with the end in mind.
A contemplation of our death ought to set the agenda for our lives.
When that day comes, who do we want to have become? What do we want to have achieved? What do we want people to say about us on that day?
If that doesn't give us a compass to live by, then nothing else will.
In this way, death is our friend — a point of perspective that can set our values and determine our goals for us.
Death serves us in another way too.
We actually experience moments of death all the time, whether we know it or not.
Dreams die. Relationships die. Chapters of our lives die. Opportunities, jobs and days of youthfulness die. Hope dies.
Life is full of unexpected blows and hard knocks.
It's another way of saying that things constantly change. We fear change because every change means that something has died, something has been left behind, some loss suffered.
But here's the thing about change. It's either an opportunity for growth; or it's an opportunity for stagnation. It all depends how we handle loss.
In every change the seeds of growth lie dormant. We can water these seeds and nurture positive growth into being. Or we can pour the poison of bitterness, reluctance and resistance on the seed of new life that is wanting to sprout.
Stages of grief
In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Swiss psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross noted what she termed the five stages of grief. In her observation of thousands of terminally ill people, as well as their immediate families, she observed a certain pattern.
When faced with death of some kind, generally speaking, there are five response stages:
Her model can be applied to our lives in other ways too. When change happens; when bad things happen to us; when life deals us a blow and our plans change — the fact is, something dies.
Healthy, strong, vibrant people can work through the five stages of grief and arrive at acceptance and tranquillity. There they learn that life follows death in strange and unimagined ways. They grow.
On the other hand, it is quite possible to become marooned at one of the other four stages.
Some deny their reality by recourse to anaesthetics like alcohol or pleasure. Some rant in perpetual anger. Some resort to desperation, selling their souls to neuroses or other slave-masters.
Some collapse into depression — what John Bunyan termed "The Slough of Despond".
All in all, the great skill of life is dealing with change. The art of life is accepting change and then making the most of what is to follow. It is how we grow, how we mature. It is how we become better.
We can see it so clearly when mourning the death of someone great, like Mr Lee.
There's no use denying that he is dead. There is no point in getting angry about it, nor trying to strike a bargain with someone or something to bring him back. Nor will it help to capitulate into depressive inaction.
Instead, with acceptance, thanksgiving can be made, past successes celebrated, the "good old days" saluted. Then new life and opportunity is found.
In the great cycle of life, just as life precedes death, so death precedes life.
So the next time we suffer a blow, a bit of bad luck or some bad news, let us hold on to the hope that every change is an opportunity for us to grow and to find new life in some unexpected place.