As we age and realize that the majority of our suns have set, we are humbled further by the understanding that the sun will set without our assistance. The knowledge that we will check out and the party will go on without us is an exclusively human curse. Although the thought of dying is hardly pleasant, we can face death fearlessly and prevent its looming shadow from darkening our numbered days.
For skeptics who deal with reality without leaning upon the crutch of false hope, we assume that death is the end of existence. There is no proof that our existence survives death and therefore no skeptic can take refuge in the empty promises of religious faith.
If death is a state of non-existence, we have already endured it because we did not exist before our parents conceived us. Our non-existence extended in the past beyond our ancestors and the first stirrings of life, to the beginning of time or for eternity, depending on your view of the cosmos.
And our non-existence did not trouble us.
The greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers and the founder of Western philosophy, Socrates, related this best after being sentenced to death at his trial in Athens. He reasoned that if death is like a night of dreamless, restful sleep, it must be a great gain.
If death is a dreamless sleep, it cannot be unpleasant. There will be no pain, sorrow or awareness of our condition. We will not yearn for life nor miss our loved ones. So what is there to fear?
As for the claim that death is a state of torment, we can dismiss it as a fabricated tool of intimidation designed to manipulate people in THIS life, the only life. We should dismiss the hells of religion due to lack of evidence.
Having demolished the notion that death is a thing to fear, some might remain discomforted by the ageless questions that perplex us: Is there a purpose for existence and if so, what is it? How can we have purpose when we will inevitably meet annihilation? How can we be content when faced by harsh reality?
These questions are beyond the scope of this article and perhaps beyond our current understanding of the cosmos. We must resolve, however, that human beings are capable of dealing with reality courageously. We must search for answers while resisting the temptations of wish-thinking. We must accept the truths we discover no matter how uncomfortable they make us. The ancient rise and fall of millions of extinct species must lead us to conclude that we are not here to be comforted.
Above all, relish each sunrise and savor each sunset. Live each day to its fullest and never allow fate to tarnish the joy of living.