The gift of life has forever been a mystery. Academic, scientific, and religious scholars have researched and debated the question of why do humans have to die for hundreds of years. It’s one of our greatest gifts and mysteries alike. We’ve all heard of life referred to as both a gift and a curse. And we’ve even referred to death as either a blessing in disguise or a tragedy.
How you perceive things depends on your life's experiences - the things you've gone through, and the losses that you've suffered. Why do we have to die? That's the question whose answer has yet to fully unfold. You can try and quantify it with statistical measures, or you can refer to ancient religious texts for answers. What you'll find are differing viewpoints on what happens when you die and why.
Here are some of the major and most common reasons why people die:
- Spiritual Reasons
- Scientific Reasons
- Old Age and Natural Causes
- Dying Young
- Succumbing to Disease
- Accident or Tragedy
There are many times where people try to find the reasons why tragedies happen. You might start looking at people, things, and events to blame for your misfortunes. It’s human nature to try and rationalize things. We want to search out the cause for why things are the way they are. In general, humans aren't satisfied with things just being.
In turn, you may look to God, a higher power, or the universe to give you answers. When all else fails, you begin to look for something specific to blame.
Grief changes you in many ways. It tends to cloud your judgment and temporarily disables your rational thinking. You may find yourself desperate for answers as to why you’re suffering. You may even begin to question your mortality and fear of death.
Things that you may start considering from a spiritual perspective are:
- Why did my loved one have to die?
- Why did this happen to me?
- Did I do something to deserve this?
- Was I not faithful enough?
- Is this punishment for my past deeds?
Most religious texts refer to our spiritual makeup as being mind, body, and spirit. We’re spiritual beings that are born into this physical world and must die when it’s our time to do so.
Depending on your beliefs, you’re either predestined to live a certain amount of time and then you die. Or your physical body dies and your soul continues in a spiritual realm. The answers as to why you must die lay within the bounds of your religious, spiritual, or philosophical background.
These teachings and philosophies give meaning and purpose to your life. They seek to explain what is otherwise unexplainable or immeasurable from this context.
In science, the rationale for why the human body dies is simply stated as the body reaching its end of life. You die when the body starts to break down, and its parts no longer function. There's no spiritual component attached to a scientific death. Modern medicine plays a role in adding years to the human body's life span, but it can't keep it alive indefinitely.
Most medical doctors aren't trained in their bedside manner to view death and dying as anything other than science. You'll likely never hear a doctor touch on spirituality or try to console you using words of faith and belief. Science treats the breakdown of the human body as something needing repair. Once all repairs are exhausted, the body dies.
Old Age and Natural Causes
When we hear that someone's died of natural causes, we tend to think of one of two things: old age or disease. These two things don't always go hand in hand. A young person can die of natural causes before reaching the end of their life span. And, on the other hand, an old person can die of things other than age-related complications.
When you understand these concepts, your perception of life and death changes. You'll begin to see the human life span as a guide rather than a guarantee. It may be that your fear of death, or thanatophobia, also gives way to a more rational approach to viewing death.
One of life's greatest tragedies is when someone dies young. When this happens, the entire universal order seems to shift. You're taught from a young age that human life starts at birth, the body develops and matures, it gets old, and then it dies. When a young person dies, this universal order is disrupted. It confuses you and causes you to start thinking about your mortality.
Things you pushed away from your thoughts because you're too young to think about them, now consume you. You'll likely suffer from racing thoughts having to do with why and how someone so young could've died. You might then start thinking about what is wrong with your body. Are you also prone to dying an early death?
If you allow these irrational thoughts to take hold, you're likely to develop anxiety. If left untreated, it can lead to depression. Try calming your fears by thinking things through rationally.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What was the cause of death? Was it a hereditary disease? An accident?
- Am I predisposed to this condition?
- How am I related to this person? Do we have the same genetics?
- What type of lifestyle did they lead?
- How does that compare to mine?
- Do I suffer from any illness or untreated medical condition?
- Do I look after my health and eat right?
- Do I exercise my body regularly?
- Am I at risk for certain medical conditions?
- How am I different from that person?
After you've taken the time to answer all of those questions above, you should begin to feel a sense of calm. It's a natural reaction to feel panic when someone young dies. You'll likely start wondering if you're next.
Then you might start planning the details of your death in your head. These are all very natural reactions and nothing to worry too much about. The feeling will pass. You may consider reading up on the death-positive movement to alleviate some of your fears of dying.
Succumbing to Disease
Disease can sometimes invade the human body with no advanced warning. Its diagnosis might come too late, making successful treatment impossible. This is one of the things that no matter how much you plan for, the universe may have something different in mind for you.
So how can you prepare for the unknown? If you spend your life living in trepidation, you risk losing out on living your life to the fullest. Worrying about everything that might or could happen may make you fearful of life itself.
If you find yourself consumed with thoughts of dying early because of potential disease, consider a visit to your doctor. Explain to them what you're going through and the reasons why you think your health might be in danger. Ask your doctor to order a complete physical and medical workup so that you can either put your mind at ease or begin to seek treatment.
Accident or Tragedy
In the event of a serious accident or tragedy that causes death, there's nothing that you can do to change the outcome. You can plan and avoid dangerous activities or situations, but you can't plan for every possibility. When accidents or tragedies happen, they usually happen very fast and can be unavoidable.
The best that you can do in these situations is to ensure that you follow all safety precautions and avoid taking foolish risks. You can’t control other's actions and what they choose to do. If they purposely put their life at risk, then they should prepare for the possible bad outcome. Try not to blame yourself or feel guilty over something you didn’t have control over.
Everything That Lives Must Die
Coming to terms with death includes the medical, scientific, and spiritual understanding that everything that is born must eventually die. It’s the circle of life that we were born into. Trying to make sense of it beyond what we already know and are discovering can be mentally exhausting and spiritually draining.
- Alvarez, Maria, "Reasons for Action: Justification, Motivation, Explanation", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/reasons-just-vs-expl/>.