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'Death and taxes', so Benjamin Franklin wrote, were life's only certainties. Although taxes now seem like an optional extra for some large corporations, death's certainty remains.

How we react to that thought determines not just what we do with our lives but how we live them now. The last fortnight has been a reminder of this in a number of different conversations, as people contemplate their own mortality, as well as the loss of and absence of loved ones.

That we are all going to die, and have a pre-sentiment of this, is existentially how it is. Much of our behaviour when young is determined by our fear of annihilation or obliteration. We fear to tread where disapproval is anticipated as leading to abandonment with all its imagined consequences. The habits established here can last a life time, sometimes limiting life to a needlessly narrow circle. Sometimes, on the other hand, the habits lead to a life that is rich and full.

What is important from an existential point of view, in line with many traditions, is that we allow ourselves to contemplate our own mortality, to know the possibilities that life affords us now. Otherwise death haunts us, in the background, as in an Ingmar Bergman film, hovering, waiting, crossing our paths intermittently, when we avert our eyes in a flight from the possibilities of being fully human in all our feelings.

Yet, in the conversations that occur when we allow our gaze to remain, when we allow ourselves to both be with our thought and the other, there can be in the middle of much sorrow a relationship filled with joy and laughter. It can lead to a good death, where dying is approached with an attitude of acceptance and the aim of making the most of what time is left. At these points many things fall away to leave an appreciation of what is essential to our wellbeing, friends, family, a presence to nature, to the beauty of sunshine and rain. We make the most of days not in the pursuit of money or glory but in these simple things, with hopefully our memories of a good life behind us, well lived, where we felt alive.

It is for that reason that contemplating our mortality is important, it allows us to make the choices we need to make now for a good life. It invites us to continually reconstrue our pre-sentiment of death so that if we live long enough, like my favourite aunt who made it to 98, we can be content and happy to leave life behind, well remembered by those that knew us. Tomorrow would be her 103rd birthday, looking back in her living she taught me that living is really a preparation for dying, which is about being alive now to whatever possibilities life that affords.

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