Death is not a “why” or a “how” – it is a “what”

It’s been a tough 6 months and here’s why.

Last Shmini Atzeret my younger brother Dov passed away peacefully in his sleep without warning or suffering from any obvious medical complaint. He had just turned 30 a few weeks earlier and was doing great things both personally and professionally. He was in a good place and really hitting his stride in life. And then, he died. And it’s been hard. Very hard. The pain is so diverse and it’s on so many levels – loss, grief, sadness, guilt, confusion, disbelief. But the burning, elephant in the room questions are “How?” and “Why did this happen?”. Apart from my own internal dialogue, almost everyone I’ve encountered throughout the formal mourning period (and beyond) have the same questions. Most openly stated as much. They meant no malice or nosiness; they wanted to know because they were simply being human.

The human mind is programmed to make sense of things – life, nature, society – there’s a certain structure and purpose to it. The harmony of our modern natural order gives us security – the sun will come tomorrow, we can continue life as long as we have our basic physical needs met and on the whole most humans are decent and kind.

But death is a crushing reminder that our lives can change in an instant.

Death is an intangible, inevitable, epic wall that borders an existence beyond our sight and comprehension. It is another time, another place, another reality and we cannot fully grasp it. Which is partly why it is so unsettling. As a coping mechanism to we tend to rationalise how and why it happened. We attribute death to sickness, aging, war and accidents. The phrase “Baruch Dayan HaEmet – Blessed is the True Judge (God)” is a fitting sentiment, as we lack the depth of understanding for the how and why. Rather we try to accept it as part of larger ideal. Maybe we feel there is reason as to why, how and when it happened to give meaning to a persons passing. Yet we are prevented from actually knowing the reason. This could be another reason for the unique term for God being a “Judge”. A true and just judge can make decisions based on experience and knowledge beyond us. We may disagree or be angry with the decision, but the sentence has a finality that we are forced to acknowledge. Irrespective of this recognition, the pain and magnitude of death often prevents us from examining what death really is. Perhaps an answer for this lies in an examination of life.

Incredibly almost all life is dependant on death. In nature when a seed falls from a tree, decay must occur to enable that seed to spout and produce life. During mammalian reproduction, egg and sperm routinely die during conception and its attempts. Eating requires the death of animal or plant matter for the consumer. In all forms of life, death becomes part of a larger process and an essential act to ensure continuity. This continuity occurs not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually and it is even eternal.

On a deep conscious and subconscious level, every human that has ever come into contact with another human, is remembered. Be it familial connections, friends or even acquaintances, human interaction leaves an imprint on our brain and soul that stays with us forever. As a result, other people literally become part of who we are, because they are inside us. And so when each of us has that affect on others, we actually connect across time to people and places we’ve never seen or been to. It might explain how and why we feel something when we visit a certain place or have a deep connection with an individual long passed away. They are part of us through this spiral of collective memories that echo through the generations. We can even see this in our DNA, as each of us carries previous genetic information from our forbearers from hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Each of us is a living family tree of countless people before us. So on some level, no-one ever really dies or is forgotten, because they are actually part of us and we carry them with us eternally.

The pain of losing a loved one is not a simple or time-related emotion. We don’t just wake up one day and not feel sadness. Our real-time connection with that individual can no longer continue. But if look inside and reach within we can still connect to our loved ones whenever we want. They will never be forgotten and their memory will never perish. And though we may not be able to share our life’s journey with them, they are with us on ours because they are part of us forever.

I pray for a time when the distance between the two realities of life and death are bridged to allow us to once again be with our loved ones.

About the Author
Joseph (Yossi) Frenkel is a Podiatrist, academic, freelance writer and (very) amateur basketballer from Melbourne, Australia. His busy family and community life never ceases to be a source of inspiration, frustration and comedy!
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