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The Light Fantastic

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I think about dying a lot. With a last name like mine, I suppose that’s inevitable. And given that I cover the life and health industries, my work doesn’t allow me the luxury of forgetting the fact that we are all living on borrowed time. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an awful thing, though. Twice in my life, I entered situations where I was certain my death was imminent – once in a car crash, the other when I got swept down a swollen river – and both times I did not feel any fear whatsoever. Both times, interestingly, I thought to myself with a sense of calm resignation, “Well, this is how it’s going to happen.”

I credit my calm demeanor both times to the fact that those instances came upon me quickly. I did not have the time to do anything but recognize my situations for what they were, and to analyze my options. Seeing none, I did all I could do: accept my situation. It was only afterwards, when I had survived, that I got scared over what had happened.

(Incidentally, in the first situation – the car crash – my resignation was ill-placed. The car I was in was so solidly built that I was in no real danger, even though I thought I was about to go up in a Hollywood-style fireball. The second time, in the river, however, I was in the very real danger of drowning.

But for most, the fear of death tends to come more slowly. And in our medically advanced society, it is not uncommon for people to receive a death sentence in the form of a terminal diagnosis. Some refuse to accept their fate, fighting to the end. Others are ready for it, perhaps strengthened by an inner belief system that makes death, if not welcome, not something to resist. 

But living with a terminal condition can create serious anxiety for such patients, which is why a team of researchers is quiertly proceeding with experiements with administering hallucinogenic drugs to terminal patients – in small doses and under rigorously controlled conditions – to see if such treatment can alleviate the patients’ anxiety.

So far the results have been interesting, if not earth-shaking. A noteworthy number of test subjects showed at least some drop in anxiety levels after a session with the drugs, but more importantly, the patients themselves seem to believe that going through the experiment at all is where the real value is. Drugs or not, to undergo a serious program in whch one can meditate on their mortality, to accept it and to come to terms with it, was ranked by a number of participants as being a significant, even life-changing experience.

It may seem strange for such a thing to be life-changing when one’s own life is quickly coming to an end. But to meet our end in peace is something we all strive for. To not see death as a spectre so grim as to not be worth talking about is something all of society could greatly benefit from. Surely the life insurance business could; if only people were willing to admit to themselves frankly and without nervous laughter that they will, in fact, die some day, perhaps it would make the process of planning for the loved ones who will survive us a much easier task to accomplish. 

Come what may, there is an end for us all. And while not everybody will appreciate the methods of this drug study, the intent can hardly be called into question: to find a way for us all to greet the end not with tears of sadness, but tears of joy for the wonders we have seen, the love we have known and the journey that must go on.


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