You watch the news: An earthquake in Nepal suddenly claims thousands of lives. You receive a phone call: Someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer. Facebook suggests an old classmate as a friend for you – but you know she passed away last year. You look at the calendar: too soon you will turn 50, or 60, or 70. You visit a parent’s grave, and surrounded by headstones, reflect on how short life is.
How do we face the knowledge of our own mortality? Whether we are young or old, sick or well, it is hard to avoid the reality that life ends, and we cannot know for sure how long or how short our lives will be. We all hope to bury our parents and not our children – yet sometimes we are faced with the reality that some parents do lose their children. No death, not even the death of someone who lived a long and happy life, is easy to bear.
Many of us turn to religion for answers, or for sustenance when loss is near. For some, faith in life after death makes mortality easier to bear. For others, faith may be shaky or nonexistent. How do we go on, knowing that we will end as “dust unto dust”?
This question is central to human existence. Knowing life will end, and living with the certain uncertainty of when that end will be – how do we find meaning and purpose in the lives we have?
This question is a place where spirituality and psychology may intersect. Where spirituality fails, mental health treatment may help restore hope. Where treatment meets its limits, faith may sustain us.
A mentally and spiritually healthy person can live with the knowledge of death, and yet not despair, knowing that our time on earth can be important, and that life is both beautiful and precious. In fact, many sense that mortality gives life meaning. If we knew were going to live forever, what would be the point? Isn’t the central challenge of life how we are going to live, knowing that life will end?
You may talk about these issues with a religious leader, with a trusted adviser, or with a mental health professional. Just don’t be afraid to talk about it. There may be no solid answers to your questions – but when you ask them, you are not alone.
To make an appointment with a therapist at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley, please see our Make An Appointment page.