When I look at the effect on my younger siblings, not having a front row seat to multiple rounds of cancer and the wasting away would probably be a better experience. Plus the obvious dread of anticipating a primary caretaker dying.
My parents told us when they decided my father was terminal and ceased treatment. The next couple of months sucked.
I usually come to HN for some good analytical cynicism.
But not today. I wish I hadn't read some of the comments on this thread. I get it you disagree, you'd do it better, or different or for xyz reason.
This is a story. A touching one at that, about a hard decision two individuals had to make and the sacrifices they made along the way because of that decision. Ultimately it's theirs to make. If you are ever in this exact situation yourself I don't think you look to an article for advice, but instead consolation.
We were invited in for a glimpse, I don't think we need to criticize these people we don't know. I don't even want to pretend to be able to justify their actions either. I don't know them.
I came away from that incident realizing that it is never a good idea to lie or deny death. Discussing it early helps you and your family prepare and makes the years afterwards less traumatic, as you don't feel robbed of your time.
If you don't want to criticize, then you shouldn't. But what's with the "we"? Why do you think you should get to decide what "we" should or shouldn't criticize?
If you disagreed with a criticism, then you should respond to that or ignore it. Why try to force your "morality" on everyone else? Why try to stifle other people's voice?
Personally, my parents kept my grandfather's illness from me. I didn't find out my grandfather was ill or dying until his funeral. That's right. I found out my grandfather died at his funeral. I didn't agree with my parents' decision and I don't agree this person's decision.
Not what I'm saying, I'm speaking specifically to my opinion about this story.
>If you don't want to criticize, then you shouldn't. But what's with the "we"? Why do you think you should get to decide what "we" should or shouldn't criticize?
"we" are part of HN as loose a collection of individuals as that is, it's me and you and everyone else here. I don't get to decide what we should or shouldn't criticize. But I do get to say how I feel about that criticism with my opinion and if that resonates with other people then so be it.
>If you disagreed with a criticism, then you should respond to that or ignore it. Why try to force your "morality" on everyone else? Why try to stifle other people's voice?
That's your morality not mine. I did respond, I just didn't do it in a reply to to a specific comment.
>Personally, my parents kept my grandfather's illness from me. I didn't find out my grandfather was ill or dying until his funeral. That's right. I found out my grandfather died at his funeral. I didn't agree with my parents' decision and I don't agree this person's decision.
Shit man, that sounds really hard, I have no clue what that must be like. I'm really sorry that it went down that way for you and your family.
I'm not the morality police. I just.... think sometimes we forget there is someone looking into the screen on the other side of this comment who might feel shitty because of what we said.
Edit: Usually it doesn't matter but as I left a counter comment I wanted to let you know I didn't downvote you. I didn't feel it would be appropriate given the topic of our conversation.
Every part of you has evolved over millions of years for the sole purpose of sustaining your existence within this universe. The core intent behind all rational thoughts that a specimen can have is survival; either at the level of the organism or at a genetic level.
From the perspective of the organism, survival is literally the only thing that means anything at all. Therefore it makes perfect rational sense to be terrified of death.
What if there's nothing after death... for the rest of eternity? This thought makes most people extremely uncomfortable. It is the root of all fears. If death didn't exist, the word "fear" would probably not exit either.
I don't think that it's the rarity of death in developed countries which makes people more afraid of it; it's the other way round; that people's fear of death (which is a side effect of better education and weaker religion in developed countries) make them less likely to take risks which might cause them to die.
I have been mulling over this for some weeks now, more intensely than ever before in my life. I'm only 24 but still terrified of the concept, and frankly it's poisoned every waking hour with a mild to extreme sense of dread and foreboding. My mind tends to fixate and freak out over life problems it can't solve, and this is the ultimate one that no one can solve. I'm glad that I still have a lot of my life ahead of me, but I can't stop fixating on the infinite nothingness afterwards and what that truly means. It's to the point that doing enjoyable things day to day feels worthless and just reminds me that it's still all going to end, no matter what I do, and sends me back down a spiral of fear.
I know rationally that I shouldn't let it get to me, because there's nothing I can do, but that just makes me apathetic and hopeless. I'm hoping this is a phase that will just pass but if anyone has real advice for how to move through this I would be very grateful.
It's very common to have existential crises (and other related crises) in your teens/20s. I certainly did. I read some philosophy-type books on the meaning of life which helped with that. (Klemke's The Meaning of Life anthology was one I remember that helped a lot.)
Ok, so... not living forever seems..bad? So..if you lived forever, that would somehow give you meaning to your life? I can't really see how it would, even if it were possible. An infinite life would probably be infinitely boring. (I don't think people really can imagine forever or eternity) Surely the brevity of life makes its moments more precious. Think on what you're grateful for, treasure the people around you. What an amazing miracle it is to somehow be conscious, alive, here, now, on this planet.
I don't think "What is the meaning of life?" is a good question - we give our lives meaning by the things we're involved in. Who cares if they don't last forever? Is a piece of music, a meal, a conversation, a day, the worse for coming to an end?
People can help you, and it is a serious problem you are having. Get help if you need it - it's being strong to ask for help. Good luck.
p.s. Religion provides answers, but false ones, as far as we know. Believing "we live forever", without any evidence, is just burying your head in the sand. Among the basic facts of life are that we are born and we die. Expecting the universe to be like a child's home, with loving parents and everything designed to make us feel good, a moral universe designed around human desires, is wishful thinking.
 (which I notice a sibling comment has recommended as a solution)
It's good to know that this has finally been determined, presumably by teams of qualified scientists, philosophers, and the most honest of holy men.
Although, it does seem to render your characterization of consciousness as an "amazing miracle" in a somewhat awkward light.
Your first sentence seems mere sarcasm, and I don't get what you mean by the second. Only religious people are allowed to use the word 'miracle'? I don't know. If you'd used plain speaking and short words, we could've seen what you really have to say. As it is, I'm left wondering. I said 'as far as we know', which you misrepresent as me saying something about 'finally'. If you have evidence otherwise, you would've mentioned it I suppose; innuendo is all you have. Your quotation in the second sentence also misrepresents what I said. If that matters to you. You wrote like you are on the side of truth before you write a word, that all your audience here will recognize it, that eloquence and long words alone will deliver triumph. Less 'delicacy', more saying what you mean, please.
I've heard that line before, and I appreciate the sentiment, but it doesn't seem to help in my case. I don't care that I didn't exist before, I care that I exist now and have to face the inevitability of not existing again.
Conversely, I realize that living forever is almost equally insane/terrifying depending on how you look at it. But personally, the end of existence feels worse from a conceptual standpoint. I've heard it put this way before: if you encountered an intelligent being who had no biological mortality, would you try to convince it to manually end its life to make its current moments more "precious?" Probably not. To a certain extent, the "appreciate life because of its fleeting nature" idea just seems like a pretty thing nonreligious people tell themselves to have a similar calming effect. I realize it's likely the only way to actually accept it and get on with my life, it just feels "fake," if that makes sense.
Regardless, I appreciate your comments, and yes, I will probably seek professional help in the near future.
I guess it's nice to think about that because every person who exists can attest for themselves that it is possible to transition from non-living to living. And maybe if it happened once, maybe it can again...
If you believe that consciousness is derived from biological material, then maybe the parts of your DNA which are responsible for consciousness will just show up in some parallel universe after a few billion years and you will get a fresh start.
"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokononism
On principle I agree with you, but my mind is too analytical to be able to fool myself with something like that. Even if I manage to maintain faith for a while, eventually the doubt creeps in again and I end up right back where I started.
My father was born to and raised by an atheist and an agnostic, and grew up to be an atheist who used to publicly dare God to strike him dead, as evidence that God did not exist.
His study of organic chemistry in college eventually led him to conclude begrudgingly that a Prime Mover seemed more reasonable than spontaneous generation. He and some friends modeled a minimalist single-cell life form and calculated the odds of spontaneously generating it in ideal circumstances, and he just couldn't call pure atheism plausible after that exercise.
A few years later, he read the Bible so he could taunt his Christian friends with all the mistakes and inconsistencies he was sure he'd find. He wound up believing it instead, almost against his will, as he now describes it.
Maybe you'll find something similar occurs. If it does, it would resolve the fear of death as a side effect, as Jesus saving us from death is an essential part of the message.
If you spend a few hours reading it and walk away utterly unimpressed, then if nothing else you at least have a better knowledge of a major influence on the development of Western culture.
The question isn't if there is a purpose (there likely isn't), purpose is a human concept after all, our mind trying to find explanations to simplify the world around us. So what if there is no purpose beyond this life and this is everything there is? That's more reason to appreciate it for what it is and to pursue all things that you think you may not regret later on because almost certainly you will be regretting not having done/tried them.
With that in mind I think this notion becomes more believable. I would suggest trying the inverse of a mind palace. Imagine the seed of the terror to be locked behind a chained up door. Before you’re allowed to experience the terror you must imagine mentally opening the door. If you don’t open the door, you can still think about death and muse upon it. You just don’t feel the terror.
That’s how I got over it anyway
Personally, I don't find anything "mystical" or especially "religiony" about the core "doctrine". That's why I call it the religion of the aliens. The core truth has that fundamental discoverable simplicity about it, and addresses the nature of this fear. The aliens won't have Jesus or Muhammed, but strip the incidental trappings on both sides, and they might have Zen, just like they might have Go.
Death is scary. Therapy can't solve that. It can probably help you keep the fear of it from infecting the rest of your life.
In the interim, check out Stoicism? The Stoics had a very hardheaded, practical sort of approach to philosophy of life, death, and suffering.
Edit: Here's some evidence: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/church-attendance-happy...
Edit edit: Physical exercise also helps. I suggest resistance training over cardio, because it produces greater endorphin release. YMMV of course. Good luck and hang in there!
Stop. Thinking. About. It.
I know, how unhelpful can I be, right? Hear me out though, I’m not talking about coming to terms with mortality, or focusing on distractions. Recognize instead that what you’re describing has two components interacting in a way that hurts you. First, as an intelligent problem solver you’re used to problems yielding to examination. When you run into a metaphorical wall in your mind, you pick away at it until it breaks down, or you find a way over and around it. You can’t do that with death, because it’s too anathema to all of our experiences.
Second, is an obsessive quality to the thinking. This is the part that “poisons every waking hour.” You’ll find idle thoughts drifting to thoughts of mortality, and intrusive thoughts of mortality will pop up. If you’re like me, this will be especially bad at night. You might feel a sort of dreadful fascination, as if by just thinking a bit more or harder could get you past it. Even thinking “I should be rational about this” is effectively another iteration of the same pattern.
So, forget about coming to terms with anything, forget about rationality. Look at the toolkits of things like Cogntiive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and just... stop. Then the only things you have to accept are that this pattern of thought is hurting you, and that no amount of thinking will help you to accept or understand extinction. All you will do is reach that point of excruciating terror, and then seek distraction.
When you find yourself drifting into thoughts of death, say to yourself “No” and then immediately change mental gears. Especially at first it can help to get a change of scenery for a minute, you can get up and walk around for a minute. Especially at first this will feel like swatting a whale with a feather, but that’s OK. Don’t make a production out of switching gears, just s quick “No” and shift. Like meditating, you have to be wary of a tendency for your redirection to take the form of what you’re trying to redirect from, so keep it simple and formulaic.
This will take time, lots of time, months to have any real impact, years to truly give you a sense of control. But... it will help. It’s a good general skill to have too, and meditation of any kind can help to flex these mental muscles. You can also talk to a doctor, or someone who specializes in CBT and seek some help at first. It won’t be required forever, but it can get you started and keep you on track at first.
I say all of this as someone who around the age of 9 started to “freak out” about death. Nothing anyone told me helped, I didn’t believe in an afterlife, and considering eternity before my birth was terrifying too. The only thing that helped was just not thinking about, and it has helped a lot. I hope that some of this helps. Just remember that the fear of death is normal, and focus instead on addressing the obsessive habit of thinking about it. The former is too big and impossible, the latter is totally human-scale and something you can do with time and effort.
Not at all. Your genes aren't better than my genes (presumably) just because they're your genes. The instinct for self-preservation is simply self-replication, which is not rational, but actually mindless. There's nothing meaningful about the drive for copying your genes over and over, it's in some sense the least rational or meaningful thing around.
So when people decide to sacrifice their survival for higher ends, be it scientific discovery, humanity at large, or some other higher goal, that is arguably much more rational.
I guess that's why religions have a lot of rules to prevent people from harming themselves and others; it's to offset the increased risk tolerance that comes with religion.
Just because survival is important to an biological organism doesn't necessarily mean that they are terrified of death. We know that most biological organism are not terrified of death because they have no conception of death.
It's an entirely human "illness", this obsession with death. Especially considering that the self is an illusion and doesn't exist so you can't die since "you" never existed.
> Survival is literally the only thing that means anything at all.
Which is not true. And even so, evolution does not determine meaning.
In what sense is death 'rare'?
Last time I checked, every single person in every single country - developed or otherwise - will die.
The percentage of the population that dies each year, I would bet, is higher for developed countries than developing.
Young people die far more rarely than they used to, and when they do, it’s usually in the hospital.
And this doesn’t even consider that people in the past would have witnessed far more death in the form of slaughtering animals for food, or witnessing drought or famine.
Obviously death comes for us all, but I would bet we don’t see as much of it first hand as we used to.
What do you mean by 'we'?
I don't know what you are trying to say. A very large percentage of the population encounters death on a regular basis.
Don't take this the wrong way, but your odd view on the subject evidences an amusing self-centeredness. Enjoy your youth. But, keep in mind that your conception of 'we' is hilariously far narrower than you realize.
Granted, I only have experience with the US, and I'm sure it doesn't extrapolate.
I would have expected medical professionals (who I understand witness death daily, despite my hilarious narrow mindedness) to be far more candid about my father's impending death. They were not. The way they talked about physical therapy and treatment just days before he died approached ridiculousness.
The oncologist didn't once mention hospice, even though it seemed obvious from looking at my father that he was, at most, weeks from death.
When we talked about the shape my father was in to friends and acquaintances, they offered facile encouragement, "Hopefully he'll start feeling better soon."
As people find out about his death, even people who knew the state he was in are shocked.
We're not shocked, we're apparently the only people who understood how bad it was, besides a few doctors who went to great lengths to avoid having a conversation about death with us.
What conclusion am I supposed to draw from this other than that our (US) society contains a lot of people who have no idea how to deal with death. They just pretend it doesn't exist or that it won't happen. They relegate it to hospital rooms and in the hospitals they try not to talk about it. They don't think about what it means to die well or what it means to have a good quality of life, especially at the end.
In any case, I don't think I was wrong that the the average person in the average developed country witnesses far less death than they would have 100 years ago. Fewer babies dying in cribs, fewer mothers dying in childbirth. Fewer grandparents dying at home in bed.
A few months ago, I would have been chastened by your statement that a large percentage of the population encounters death on a regular basis, but I interacted with lots of those people in the hospital while my father was dying, and I can't say it was impressed upon me that they deal with death any better than the patients they treat who certainly have much less experience.
Granted, I only have experience with the US, and
I'm sure it doesn't extrapolate.
I think when pressed she said something like "he probably has a few weeks to a few months to live", and he died about 4 weeks later. I'm glad that I got the chance to fly to visit him before his passing which I wouldn't have had if she had the same attitude as your father's doctor.
Whole generations of men have spend all living years and resources on bizarr death cults which used the in your face fear reaction to inspire irrational believes. Denial is better than a rational approach in my opinion.
When talking to them about it, they were surprisingly pragmatic about the whole thing, and they even shifted the conversation to our own (my wife and I) mortality and the fact that we wouldn't be around forever.
I think it is a far healthier approach, and it helps the grieving process. I recall even in my childhood when my parents hid the facts that the family dogs had passed etc. - I always had some residual resentment towards them for that - the fact I couldn't say goodbye properly or that they thought I was too emotionally ill equipped to deal with it.
I was the youngest child of an old couple, and I lost my mum about 10 years back, and I am going to lose my father sometime in future, and I have been constantly thinking about it - literally everyday I have time to think - for the last 20 years of my life. I am in my early 30s!
I have been grieving passively most of my life, because I have been acutely aware of the mortality of my parents, and cannot say its healthy. I wish I had "known" less about my parents mortality.
I guess, my point is - death of loved ones suck, and everyone handles grieving differently.
I think a gift we have is not knowing when or how we are going to go.
If there is nothing I can do about it, Not sure if I would want to know the number of days my parents have, even if they are aged. Same way not sure if I would want my kids to know how much time I have.
We all are unique. Each family is unique. And it is also natural for humans to judge openly or subconsciously. But we do what we think is best for family.
I dread the day, science is going to put a number on a child as soon as it is born. I feel it would make our life miserable for everyone.
 https://www.thisamericanlife.org/585/in-defense-of-ignorance (act 1, What You Don't Know)
> Some might not have made the same decision, believing that the girls had a right to know they should savor diminishing moments. But Marla didn’t want her girls to savor; she wanted them to sail, and that meant less information—not a lie, but a lacuna. Marla refused to let family time together feel too precious, too heightened, too sad.
> Our girls have talked often about their mother’s sacrifice and said to me without prompting, “I am so glad I didn’t know what Mommy was going through. I would have worried every single day.” In these past two months, they have reassured me again and again that not telling them was the loving choice.
It's apparent that your experience, valid and valuable as it is, does not compare. Not at all, not even remotely.
If you ever have to make a decision like this, God forbid, you may well make it differently, as Mr. Mehlman says. But given your distance from the Mehlmans in personality and situation, I honestly don't think your evaluation of their actions can be relevant to anyone except yourself.
And... I suspect they did help, I suspect the kids did more chores to keep the house up, doing things that the mother was too tired to keep up with. If it was revealed correctly the children could find comfort in the fact that they had been helping all along, they were just being shielded from the grief (and temporarily)
It wasn't best for the kids, but that's ok.
What matters is the dying person was as happy as possible, which one can see, keeping it from the kids would have helped with.
The kids will find out about the lie and further lying that it was for "them" is where it's not healthy.
The concept they went through hardship by not knowing acknowledges their journey AND gives it value by saying it helped their parent in their final days rather than the awful guilt of not being able to help or even given the chance to help.