The power of acceptance of death

Publish: 8:27 PM, July 13, 2021 | Update: 11:18:PM, July 13, 2021

Dr P. R. Datta
Human relationships are bedevilled by jealousy and resentment, much of this stemming from the fact that people rarely accept their lot in life and covet the lives and possessions of others. Central to achieving deep inner contentment is the ability to accept situations with equanimity. Far from merely being resigned to things, we must face adversity and good fortune with the same spirit, one where we dare to accept the fruits of our action or inaction. We must challenge ourselves to know more about ourselves and appreciate the impermanence of much of what humans traditionally hold dear. We must accept the frailty of the human body whilst working assiduously to hone our spirit. In Latin, accept means “to take towards yourself”. Acceptance does not mean weak resignation or apathy, and it does not condone all negative and hurtful behaviours and abuses, negative state of affairs or immoral elements of the society; it does not mean defeat.

When we think about human mortality or death, how do we feel? This is only one constant phenomenon that we all must die as we are born. But still, it is not easy for all of us to accept this reality. To deal with our imminent death is the most complicated task for us. But the story I plan to bring here about a man of vision and integrity, a man of sensitivity and humility, the epitome of humanity who accepted this absolute truth and embraces with high human dignity. He was an Englishman, Mark Thomas Jones. He passed away recently, a well-wisher of Bangladesh, a fervent internationalist and my dear friend and colleague known to me for the past 22 years. Losing a loved one hurts deeply, but it is also true that we all must celebrate every moment of our life and should pay respect to the deceased person. Instead of holding onto our lives forever, we all should live a life with an explicit purpose and embrace its ephemerality when the time comes.

Mark Jones realised that his time is short as he could not hold his monstrous painful cancer anymore and nor he does to become angry about it; instead, he accepted this. He becomes more focused on peace, mindfulness, and self-compassionate that led him spiralling upward; when we stop resisting odd circumstances by opposing them, it helps create our better reality. We are all concerned about imminent death due to fear of losing the world’s beauty, loved ones, family and friends, fear of the unknown, fear of the unpleasant afterlife, and fear of loss of individual dignity. The concept of death and how we feel about it is well articulated in the book titled “On death & dying” written by Dr Kubler-Ross. When we think about our impending death, we go through stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. It had happened to me when I was a young boy. I remember the day vividly when my father passed away. Even in the morning, I could not imagine that he would not be with us a few hours later.

We all cannot accept the reality of death at an initial stage. We cannot think that the loss of our own life will take place soon. How can we take on that we will leave this beautiful world, our loved one, our known things? People may think this is just a dream. This is not true that you will be dying soon. I thought my father would be fine too. The doctor will come, will check and give medications, and he will be ok. But when the doctor came and said to all-this is now at God’s hand, I become angry; I felt this is unfair to my father; this is very cruel to all of us. People, too, feel outraged when they realise that they will be dying soon. They feel angry about the consequences of their past, their lifestyles, their conduct and behaviours. Sometimes people will get angry at the supreme power for allowing it has happened. Many people lose their faith, trust and hope during this time.

But over time, people become calm, reflect on themselves and the world we are in and enter into the bargaining stage to beg the supreme power to change our fate.

We start praying for the best, we confess, making promises, begging for help, like Jephthah -a mighty warrior, bow to the Lord “please give me the victory and I would sacrifice the first thing who will come out from my house to greet me”. What a fate? He was greeted by his daughter, only child, when he returned home after winning the battle. But we do not know whether he killed his daughter. When people realise none of these will change their fate of death, they become depressed as no options are open. They confront the reality of death and destitute to change it. People start to cry, change their behaviour, become dull and negative, start blaming themselves. But finally, they accept the reality. People will be able to accept that their death will not be stopped, and this will occur. This is when courageous and stable people will start planning for the end. Acceptance of this reality will make you stronger, will help you to realise that you should not become numb if things are not going your way, and any negative emotions will not thwart you.

When we accept the reality of death, we are more stable and can plan for the end, focus on pending works, setting things right, making peace and harmony with the inevitable without having any fear of the unknown, fear of pain and fear of grief. Death anxiety can cause severe psychological disorders when it is perceived as an undefeatable painful, and fearful monstrous that taken away our beautiful dream and happiness. Having a positive attitude and accepting the reality helps enhance our resilience, well-being, and living a life with significance.

Mark was very positive, courageous, dignified and charitable who did not want to waste his time, energy and efforts worrying and complaining about things beyond his control. He had the attitude to accept the unacceptance, which helped him become wiser and epitome. That enabled him to feel eudaimonic happiness. He realised non-acceptance could be insanity and denial that leads to anxiety, unhappiness and destruction of a meaningful life. He happily accepted his impending death and planned his end journey accordingly without leaving any fear for the family and friends. Not everyone can get things quickly, but some have the exemplary courage and wisdom to accept reality, which can be a powerful state of mind. Once you welcome the fact, you become more empowered to do something about this reality. By accepting death, we all can discover something meaningful & peaceful. This state of mind can transform our fears, unknown afterlife dilemmas and helps us readily embrace death with calm. Our fears and the unknown can transform into courage and faith. This is what I have witnessed in Mark, who knew he would be dying soon.

Accepting this truth can help us make more conscious decisions, control fearful anxieties, avoid destructive behaviour and grief, and enhance our current activities. During Mark’s last few days, he becomes very sick and realises he is coming to the end of a harrowing journey he has born with great dignity. He took the opportunity to plan his end journey. He has prepared his funeral accordingly. He has requested his parents no flowers for his funeral mass but has asked for donations to a deaf school in Sierra Leone. What a tremendous wise personality? An excellent example of an unreasonable man who cares about others. He devoted most of his life to good causes, especially for Africa’s poor and oppressed communities and beyond. He worked assiduously to assist vulnerable children in the street of Kampala, Niger, Ethiopia, Somaliland and beyond. Mark initiated a major humanitarian project in Sierra Leone in 2020 during a horrific civil war to help the poorer. He always believed that due to poverty of leadership, a knowledge deficit about the world and population, and lack of vision and dreams, we all face many of the current economic and geopolitical difficulties. A passionate advocate of “leading to serve”, Mark was elected a Freeman of the City of London in 1994 to recognise his various charitable endeavours in London.

Suppose people can muse this word of acceptance. In that case, it can provide a powerful tool, most unexpected life skills for bringing peace and harmony in life, for enhancing well-being and happiness that leads to emotional liberation. A self-compassionate individual can easily accept reality, and such disposition is the essence for unlocking the door of acceptance.

An individual can move with the flow of the situation when accepting it rather than against all the odds of the problem. We all can make our life more pleasant, harmonised and beautiful by neutralising many of our experiences and activities with the help of the alchemical power of acceptance.

Dr P. R. Datta, Executive Chair, Centre for Business & Economic Research, UK