To witness death is a right of passage which comes to most if not all of us. It is a sobering and undoubtedly sad experience but not, perhaps, without its redemption. To suffer death comes, in the end, to us all.
As children to witness death can be at its worst. God knows what it must be like for the child soldiers of Africa or the victims of genocide.
In the last 70 years in Western Europe death for most of us has often been a more peaceful affair. It is still deeply moving. It still provokes intense thought and wonder. It can often entail grief and great sadness. But at least death in the West, whether from disease or old age, has mostly been decoupled from the senseless brutality of meaningless violence.
For the scientist, birth is a coming together of atoms in a collection which results in consciousness. Death is the mere redistribution of those atoms back to where they came from – the world and universe all around us.
For the religious there can be comfort in death – the existence of an immortal soul, the promise of a resurrection or a heaven. When Marx referred to religion as opiate he was in some senses very accurate. It can give comfort and strength in the extreme to the true believer.
To the rest of us it is perhaps down to developing our own philosophy – our own view of how and why conscious life comes and goes. Or perhaps for some of us the realisation that there is no “why” just “how”.
And the “how” can itself give a comfort and great beauty – the sheer wonder of the natural world. The endless cycles of birth and rebirth, of the planets round a sun, of the beauty of the seasons. Of the birth and death of planets and suns and galaxies. The endless dance. The coming and going of the very universe itself.
To have lived a good life is all that matters in the end. A life where, if you did not manage to achieve great good, you at least did no great harm. A life where you gave and received love. A life of the little things. The joy of children, the wisdom of later life. The beauty you saw around you and the contribution you made to the dance.