Monday, 29 April 2013


The great thing about being dead is that you don’t know you are dead. Possibly excluding your wits, life is the only thing you can lose or have taken away and not be able to miss it when it’s gone.

Dead people are not aware of life going on without them, and they don’t feel deprived; they are not aware and they do not feel. They are dead. Or more accurately they are not. And we too will be not, one day. We needn’t worry about being in this state, because we will not be in it; it is not a state.

After my death, I won’t miss you, or worry about you, or be sorry that you miss me, or wish I could contact you. I will experience no regrets, no joys, no nothing. I will have no experiences. I will not be.

We say, ‘He is dead’ or ‘He has died’ because language has evolved to allow us to describe people’s characteristics and to speak about their activities. Therefore it does not easily stretch to cover death, in which there can be no characteristics and no activities.  ‘He is no more’ is more precise, because it tells the truth about death being non-existence, neither content nor discontent, neither painful nor pain free. Just ‘Not’.

‘He is no more’ seems oddly euphemistic, but only because we don’t take its meaning seriously.

We mislead ourselves with many traditional or comforting forms of words. For example, ‘At Peace’ suggests that the dead person is in a particular state of being, and ‘We will always miss you’ purports to address someone who no longer exists and therefore cannot really be addressed. It is of course true that the possibility of pain and anguish has come to an end for the dead person, and it may be true that we miss them.

When living people are not with each other, they remember each other’s appearance and personality, and use these memories both to recognise each other when they meet again and to predict how they will behave in unknown situations. Memories of the dead cannot be used in these ways, but because they are otherwise exactly the same as memories of the living, it is easy to slip into feeling that they can be so used – that we will meet the dead again, that they are in some unknown situation.

We find it hard to think of people who had an impact on our lives as being no more, especially soon after they have ceased to be, before things have changed much from what they knew. Consequently we find it hard not to think of those who are no more not being in some kind of state that can be compared to this one.

We find it hard to think of ourselves as no longer being. Imagine you were to die tonight, and then imagine the lives of your family members, your friends and your work colleagues in, say, fifteen years time. Then try to imagine yourself in fifteen years time not being able to know what they are doing. We cannot imagine ourselves not being, not knowing. This is not imaginable. When something cannot be imagined, the effort to imagine it conjures up something that can be imagined, in this case the picture of ourselves in some unreachable vantage point in the future knowing about the people we know today.

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