Death is generally something to be avoided! Yet for someone suffering unbearably and unrelievably it is sometimes viewed as a release. Hence the ‘right-to-die’ movements and books such as the Five Last Acts series.
Yet focussing on a negative – the non-existence of something – is something that can be mentally challenging if not impossible. Freedom from suffering is a noble and understandable goal: yet what exactly does this ‘freedom’ comprise?
To find the answer, we maybe need to look further than the absence of suffering, to the things that can truly justify and make an end to life one of goodness, a ‘good’ death. The psychologist Carl Jung felt he had found the answer and studied many ancient traditions to support his theory of a ‘celebration’ of death. In Psychology of the Unconscious, he suggests that it is the libido that wills each of us to complete his or her life, likening it to the course of the sun, “to mount from morn to noon, and, passing beyond noon, to hasten towards evening, not at war with itself, but willing the descent and the end.”
Jung goes on to remind us of the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote: “I praise thee, my death, the free death, which comes to me because I want it. And when shall I want it? He who has a goal and an heir wants death at the proper time for his goal and his heir. And this is the great noonday, when man in the middle of his course stands between man and superman, and celebrates his path towards evening as his highest hope: because it is a path to a new morning. He who is setting will bless his own going down because it is a transition: and the sun of his knowledge will be at high noon.”
Jung C, Psychology of the Unconscious (trans. Hinckle B), Kegan Paul 1933:p.233.
Nietzsche F, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Fraser JG, The Golden Bough