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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

O Death


 

Having once subscribed to the Judeo-Christian values under which I was raised, I formerly valued the lesson of 1 Corinthians 15:55-58, which begins by addressing death thusly, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

 

Long since abandoning my religious faith, I can recognize the invaluable instruction I received from biblical upbringing. Noteworthy, I remain grateful for the information taught to me regarding the inevitability of death.

 

Because I don’t presume to know my audience, allow me to insult the intelligence of the average reader. By “death,” I’m referring to the process or act of dying during which the cessation of an individual’s heart pumping blood, lungs performing the function of breathing, and brain experiencing activity.

 

At risk of boring knowledgeable readers, I comment on the obvious for a reason. I’ve actually had discussions with people who claim that humans never die. Therefore, I define my terms and operate with understanding that we will all die one day.

 

This morning, I awoke to a version of Appalachian Folk musician Lloyd Chandler’s song “Conversation with Death” being played in my mind, though I enjoyed the rendition “O Death,” sung by Ralph Stanley, as featured on the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou.

 

Chandler’s song has been modified by a number of singers. Personally, I appreciate the unambiguous nature in which the musician describes what he imagines Death – as a sentient character – stating:

 

Yes, I have come to get your soul

To leave your body and leave it cold

To drop the flesh from off your frame

The earth and worms both have their claim

 

I’ll lock your jaws so you can’t talk

I’ll fix your feet so you can’t walk

I’ll close your eyes so you can’t see

This very hour, now, come and go with me

 

The old, the young, the rich, the poor

They, like you, will have to go

No age, no wealth, no silver, no gold

Nothing satisfies me but your poor soul

 

The unabashed message is clear, all shall die. Unless you choose to delude yourself, the fact of death is an inescapable demand placed upon everyone. Although I don’t imagine death as a living being – whether physical or spiritual – I cannot deny its influence on us all.

 

The modified version of Chandler’s song, sung by Stanley, includes the following lyrics:

 

Oh, Death

Whoa, Death

Won’t you spare me over ‘til another year?

Well, what is this that I can’t see?

With ice-cold hands taking hold of me

Well, I am Death, none can excel

I’ll open the door to Heaven or Hell

Whoa, Death, someone would pray

Could you wait to call me another day?

 

The subtly of transitioning from, “Oh, Death” – which serves as a greeting, to, “Whoa, Death” – which serves as an interjection command to slow down or stop, sets the tone of the singer’s pleading with Death. Appeals to halt the inevitable have often confused me.

 

I suppose that if a person irrationally believes that one has control or influence over an inescapable process, the individual can self-disturb about death and make the unavoidable experience far worse than it needs to be. I’m grateful for my parents not having lied to me in childhood, because I don’t needlessly suffer as an adult in this regard.

 

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in my personal and professional life, I use an existentialist frame to inform my practice of this psychotherapeutic modality. In simplest terms, I acknowledge that I will one day die and that I can use purpose and meaning to improve the quality of my life while I’m still here (alive).

 

Additionally, I frequently discuss death with those people within my close circle. As well, I invite my clients to unconditionally accept the undeniable fact that one day they will die.

 

Admittedly, people tend not to appreciate reminders about their inevitable demise. Nevertheless, I speak truth in order to help individuals dispute the irrational lies of which they’re convinced.

 

It would be dishonest not to admit that some friends, family members, and loved ones have deliberately avoided discussing death with me. For instance, someone’s pet may die and a friend will refrain from informing me.

 

When later discovering the pet’s death and I ask why I wasn’t told about the event, I’ll usually hear something along the lines of, “Because I already know what you’ll have to say, ‘Every living things dies,’ and I didn’t want to hear that.”

 

Not uncommonly, some clients who pay for the mental, emotional, and behavioral health services I offer have also evaded discussion of death. When challenged on such behavior, I may be told something like, “I just don’t want to hear it, even though I know it’s true.”

 

Keep in mind that in my personal and professional life, I don’t make a habit of using a callous approach to the topic of death. At times, humorous, no doubt. However, I practice rational compassion with people, especially because I understand that not everyone was raised as I was.

 

When considering this matter, I think the compassionate thing to do is inform people of truth. As stated by the late el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, “I know you don’t like me saying that, but I’m not the kind of person who come[s] here to say what you like. I’m going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not.”

 

Who knows why I awoke to “O Death” playing in my mind this morning? I don’t. However, I do know that I will one day die, and so will you, and so will everyone we know. Unlike lyrics from the songs of Chandler and Stanley, I doubt I’ll plead with death when it’s my time to go.

 

That is, unless it’s how Arthur Charles Herbert Runcie MacAdam Jarrett died. In that case, please, oh please…whoa, Death! Not that! Anything but that! Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

  

References:

 

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