When asked what is death, most people have certain answers. They might respond that death is the cessation of life. That is to say, death is when a person dies. Others might say that death is when the body dies, and that again is to say that death is the stoppage of life. But these responses contradict each other.
What is Death? According to Charles Darwin, “If we take the record of mortality, both in the life and in the grave, we find ourselves surrounded by a confusion so full of perplexity that we hardly believe it all.” Darwin further added, “I am almost inclined to think that the difficulty in our understanding of death, so far as we are apt to admit it, arises from the want of a definition… Since we cannot agree on what death is, how can we assign a name to it?” These thoughts stimulated Charles Darwin’s study of natural phenomena, which led him to write, in The Origin of Species, “If it were not for life, death would never come to us.”
We have all heard the expression, “You are now mortal and must die.” This is not strictly speaking, as the Greek word for “mortality” does not conform to this usage. What is Death? Death is when the life of an organism ceases for reasons not always immediately obvious, unless recently when the organism has lived long enough to be noted, and the question arises as to whether it is time to consider the corpse. After this period the question may again arise as to whether or not the life of that particular organism should continue, and when the time comes for the inevitable, what kind of being would it be? From the foregoing discussion it will be seen that the conception of what is Death is in fact very vague.
To be sure, death is not the same thing as the end of life, and there are different terminologies and conceptions applicable to these two concepts. In general, however, death is the termination of the life processes of an individual, and sometimes it is also called the annihilation of the human body. The question as to whether death is inevitable, and therefore necessary, and whether it is good or bad, is a problem to be answered by philosophical speculation. For the purpose of this paper we will treat death as the natural cause of human mortality.
The meaning of Death is the extinguishing of human life, or the extinction of the human mind. According to some, the extinguishing of life is accomplished by the taking away of life by the murderer or killer; according to others, by the extinguishing of mind by the inquisitor who seeks to prove something beyond all reasonable doubt; and according to many others, by the putting to death of a human corpse. Whichever school of thought one may follow, death is seen as the instant when the mind ceases to function for man. Consequently, man suffers the loss of his human personality, his ability to reason, and the continuity of his earthly existence.
Death is the cessation of all earthly life, the extermination of a living organism, and the bringing back into the nothingness of what was formerly a living organism through suicide. According to St. Augustine, when death ensues, our souls perish with it and the soul has no further part in this earthly existence.
Death is the beautiful thing, the inevitable cessation of earthly life, the destruction of both body and soul, and the coming back into the nothingness of the physical body, for which we are not responsible. What is Death? It is the withdrawal of a person from life, for whose coming into being was the consequence of his making a choice. A person dies when he leaves his body, and Life is the art of making choices.
Death is the transition of a living organism, the soul, into the realm of the spirit, which is very spiritual. Death is the beautiful thing. We see the changes which Death represents, and we also see that we have a part in its beauty. We must leave the judgment of what Death means to us to those who will decide what Death means to us, but we can leave it to those who understand it, who are prepared to face it, and who will honor their dignity and their lives.