Befriending Death


Any fan of Harry Potter series must be already familiar with this story:

“There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely, winding road at twilight. In time, the brothers reached a river too deep to wade through and too dangerous to swim across.. However, these brothers were learned in the magical arts, and so they simply waved their wands and made a bridge appear across the treacherous water. They were halfway across it when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure.

And Death spoke to them. He was angry that he had been cheated out of three new victims, for travelers usually drowned in the river. But Death was cunning. He pretended to congratulate the three brothers upon their magic and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him.

So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death! So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.

Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from Death. So Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead.

And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility.

Then Death stood aside and allowed the three brothers to continue on their way, and they did so, talking with wonder of the adventure they had had, and admiring Death’s gifts. In due course the brothers separated, each for his own destination.

The first brother traveled on for a week or more, and reaching a distant village, sought out a fellow wizard with whom he had a quarrel. Naturally with the Elder Wand as his weapon, he could not fail to win the duel that followed. Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor, the oldest brother proceeded to an inn, where he boasted loudly of the powerful wand he had snatched from Death himself, and of how it made him invincible.

That very night, another wizard crept upon the oldest brother as he lay, wine-sodden, upon his bed. The thief took the wand and, for good measure, slit the oldest brother’s throat.

And so Death took the first brother for his own.

Meanwhile, the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone. Here he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead, and turned it thrice in his hand. To his amazement and his delight, the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him.

Yet she was sad and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there and suffered. Finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, killed himself so as truly to join her.

And so Death took the second brother for his own.

But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.”

– “The Tale Of the Three Brothers” by Beedle the Bard, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter Twenty-One

What took my interest the most was the last line, “And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.”

In that line, the third brother welcomed death “as an old friend”. He was befriending death. I was taken aback. How many of us would say “Yes” to the question “Are you ready for death?”

Are you ready for death?

Personally, I am not yet.

Talking about death is still considered taboo for some of us. You might have tried having a conversation with someone, talking freely about death, how to die well or what is the best way to die or what happens after we die; and ended with someone looked at you strangely, as if talking about death would bring it closer to us. I have such experiences. Admitted or not, people are afraid of death – not the death itself, but more of when it will come.

Either you believe in afterlife or not, we have to admit that in fact, we know nothing about death. What happens in the process of dying? Does dying hurt? What will happen afterwards – are we going somewhere or simply disappear? So many questions, yet still no answer.

Wise people said, “We are afraid of what we don’t know.” Therefore, we try to avoid death by avoiding talking about it. Jobs that are related to death are less popular in society. People are trying to keep as much as possible distance with death. Death always comes in the future, not today, not tomorrow, not anywhere in the near.

“Whenever we’re afraid, it’s because we don’t know enough. If we understood enough, we would never be afraid.” – Earl Nightingale

Good news is, death isn’t going anywhere. It will not come running to you before its time. Bad news is, death isn’t going anywhere. No matter how hard you try to hide from it, it will find you eventually. We are all walking towards death. We all are both living and dying – simultaneously.

As I write this post, I know some people will think that this post is weird, superstitious, or else. But I still want to write about it. I have to write it, because it has bugged me for some time. To conquer our fear, we have to face it, not being ignorant about it. And to face my fear about death, I am writing this down.

Once, my Professor said, “I think we should make a course about death – discussing how we all have to die someday, what scientifically happens in dying process, and how to prepare ourselves for death and deal with the facts. We have to teach people not to fear death.” (– Prof. G)

There are already lots of courses about how to deal with the death of people we loved, but we rarely find a course about how to deal with our own death. Again, because people never think they will die in the near future. Death always comes later.

We shouldn’t fear death; aren’t we all going to die in the end? “In the end” could be anytime in the future. We have to live our life to the fullest, while preparing ourselves for the unpredictable time of death.

As someone who works in medical field, I have witnessed many deaths. I have seen different ways of people dying, and I have seen different ways of those who are left, deal with it. We cannot predict death. It comes when it’s time. We cannot avoid death or hide from it. The only thing we can do is to learn how to deal with death, including how to prepare ourselves for death, psychologically. In short, we have to befriend death.

I have also seen some people who have befriended death. These people are usually patients with serious illness or simply those who are wise enough not to fear death anymore. These people, when finally have encounters with death, face it with more calmness and peace. Even though I still don’t know what happened to them after they died, I think it’s a good way to die: in peace and acceptance – rather than in denial or ignorance.

I think when we have better understanding about death and how we want to die (means, how we want to be remembered after we die), then we are ready, thus we will fear death no more, we can face our death with courage, and we will live our best so we have no regret when the time comes. In the end, we will be able to “greet Death as an old friend, and go with him gladly, and, equals, we departed this life.

photoA Christmas present from my brother and cousins – a sand clock. As the sand goes down, both emptying the upper part and filling the lower part – the same with our life; we are both living and dying at the same time, we are currently walking our way to the end of the journey, while living the life to the fullest.

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