The death of my father

I’m dealing with the death of my father the way I deal with most things: by thinking, and processing those thoughts through writing, fingers to keyboard. Given my philosophical bent, these thoughts wander from his particular death to mortality in general. That might strike you as cold, excessively rational, analytic. But the only rule about grief is that there are no rules. Reactions to death cannot be neatly divided between the normal or abnormal, appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong. We muddle through death as we muddle through life, each scrambling in the dark for a way through.

At times like these, philosophers are of limited use because when they have talked about dying they have tended to focus on what it means for the one who dies. Plato, for instance, called philosophy a preparation for death, while Epicurus told us we had nothing to fear from dying. But such thoughts are not much use to those who die suddenly. My father had seemed fit as a fiddle, but he was struck by a heart attack and died on the spot. The same happened to his brother and his brother-in-law, while his own father was killed instantly by a stroke. It is as though the Grim Reaper enjoys playing a cruel joke on those who look intently ahead. Those who prepare to meet him face-to-face are just as likely to find he sneaks up behind them and takes them unawares.

A much more useful philosophy would help us to prepare for the deaths of others. I have never been sure that philosophy does a good job of that. But perhaps a philosophical outlook can help us make sense of death when it comes close to us. Continue reading


Julian Baggini is a writer and founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine.


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