Death awareness and the coronavirus

As any terminal patient will tell you, the awareness of death often brings with it a far greater appreciation for life. It’s not that we don’t know our existence is finite, but rather that we don’t know when the finite comes to an abrupt end.

In his final column for The New York Times before his passing, the author and neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote quite profoundly of his newfound awareness that his life wasn’t over, upon receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

“On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight,” Sacks wrote.

Researchers have found that this type of reaction is common: very often, our perception of just how much (or how little) time we have left dictates the way we spend it. Realising that we are, indeed, impermanent beings often makes us appreciate the little moments and the people close to us so much more.

Of course, not everyone reacts this way when they learn that they or someone close to them is terminally ill. Aside from leading to reflection about our lives and the people in them, the knowledge of impending death may also cause feelings of anxiety, which can lead to self-protective, self-righteous behaviour. When one is faced with death, many people have a much higher regard for self-preservation and the protection of their own.

Suffice it to say, the Covid-19 crisis has brought death into much sharper view for a large group of people. No longer is the threat of our own expiration something far off: the coronavirus has brought this threat right to our doors.

Even if the thought of our own death or the passing of those we are close to is something most of us prefer not to think about too much, the topic is worth exploring, as it may well turn our attention to improving the quality of our lives. Ultimately, we may choose to view death as something that induces anxiety and makes it difficult to live our lives to the full, or as something that makes us appreciate every breath and opportunity we have to take.

Are you struggling with anxiety related to the coronavirus lockdown or are you battling to deal with a family member’s terminal diagnosis in the face of Covid-19? The psychosocial team at HospiceWits can assist you with online counselling services. Reach out by contacting Pauline (011 483 9100) or Francois (071 970 0576).