Essential for understanding survival is understanding reality of death and dying

Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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When I was young and under the influence of movies and books about fighting, war and dying somehow I adopted views that death and dying is something unavoidable and it is mostly noble and clean, and have some kind of cause and reason.

Soon I realized that truth is quite different, and mostly there is nothing clean about it.

People like to think that death in combat is something like they see on movies because it makes sense, it gives you some kind of comfort. I have seen death and dying many times, both in combat and in bed at peoples home when working in emergency services, and I can count on one hand when it looked clean and “noble”.

Buddy next to you who get few bullets in stomach will usually scream a lot, smell a lot, and you gonna catch yourself thinking „is he already dead? I can not stand this…“ and in the same time theres gonna be one more thought, prevailing, it is „thanks God it is him, not me, lying, screaming and dying…“ and later you might feel guilty for thinking this way…

Dying people will call their moms, sons, wives… will hold to you with their hands like death is trying to drag them, like you can save them, sometimes they will stare „through“ you, like they already see something that is not from this world…

Sometimes you gonna see something like blame in their eyes, this time they are aware that they are dying, and they want to switch places with you. Why can this guy stay and I have to go now? How unfair and cruel is this. This can not be real.

When SHTF be prepared that people will die around you, and it probably will look very different from picture that you have in your mind now. And also be prepared that looking at those deaths will change you on many levels, will affect you. I have seen people that were changed in bad ways, also I have seen people changed in good ways.

But it will change you.

As I said, I have seen many deaths, and most of those deaths were violent. All that makes me more cynical, but every time when I caught myself being too cynical I remember my motto that „generalizing things is not good“ so I remember the man, my good friend who died some 5 years ago.

He died in hospital, throat cancer. It was bad, and it was very painful. And what was worse it was very slow. He was „melting“ in front of my eyes, for weeks, at the end all what was left were skin, bones and his eyes.

I remembered those eyes from the days of war and chaos, he was strong man, a lion, people had a picture of him that he is powerful and ruthless. He was inspiration for many to fight on. And they were right. He was dangerous and fearless. But what they did not know was fact that he hide and save whole bunch of people from different enemy „group“. He did not do that for money, gold or anything else.

He saved them from death and private prisons, and get them to the safety. In that time he could easily lost his life for doing that. Only condition was that those people keep their mouth shut about who helped them. And they did mostly. After everything rumors were there, but nobody believed them.

Anyway times changed, he lost his power after the war, and later his health too. Times came when he could use fact that he save those folks, in order to gain money or power or similar.
But he did not do that, I know him before war, during the war, and after the war, I helped him once in smuggling few those guys to safety.

He did not use that. He was very poor when they found his cancer, he died as a poor man. Only few people were with him when he died, including me.

And I think it is one of the rare occasions when I saw that some man is very aware that he is dying, and still he is very calm, very peaceful. He always believed in God, in Jesus Christ, so it gave him peace I guess, but I like to think that being good man gave him peace. He save those folks because he was man like that, good man. He also knew what to expect from death. We, survivors of this time, have seen it too often to live under any illusion.

As I said, my faith in people is not strong at all, but whenever I lost it too much I remember him and thought that come to my mind is that even in hardest times you can find good people, even in strangest places. It does not mean to trust people, you should not. But in big crowd of naive sheep there are few exceptions. Look closely how people deal with stressful situation around you. Look who believes in what Hollywood tells them is reality and avoid these people.

Reality of death and dying will change them and it is hard to guess to what. Reality and our idea of life and death is often very different and this can result in shock when you look at ugly side of death. Shock paralyzes and scars souls.

I know this message is lost on many people who like to flip open weapon magazine and shop for new toys instead of learning about ugly side of life. Getting comfortable with death and how ugly, smelly, dirty and not noble it is, is essential for survivalist to still make right decisions and actions when it matters.

What are your thoughts on death and dying? Any personal experiences that helped you to become peaceful with it? Please share in comments.

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23 Responses

  1. Seems we have been down the same path. I am pushing my 40th year in emergency medicine.
    I started with Red Cross in 1964 in high school, Combat Medic in 1971 and teach Survival and Emergency Preparedness/ Medicine since 2010 when I retired from the government.
    I tell folks in a survival situation they will be a time you will need to hold your patients hand and let them pass. You can try to save them but you will use all your meds and supplies knowing they will die no matter what you do. Now how do you tent to the other casualties?
    You need to think and plan for this now. It is painful and difficult, been there and learned the hard lesson.

    Be Prepared – Be Prayerful – Be Thankful – You are an American,

  2. All of the human death or dying i’ve seen is “peaceful” in the sense that it was in a hospital after a long slow decline where modern medicine makes everything horrendous by trying to keep said person alive as long as possible..and yes, the eyes get you (sometimes). Sprinkled in are a few died-overnight-in-sleeps; i can remember as a child among country people of the women bathing and preparing the body for the funeral in the parlor. But if you are around animals much: shot the cat that got hit by the car in front of you, whose guts are spilling out, to put it out of its misery, looked for baby possums in the pouch of a head-squashed mother, butchered livestock…animal eyes plead and accuse, too. I’ve never been under any illusions that death for a human would be equally as brutal in a brutal situation. I am assuming that, if I ever have to deal with it, I will do so properly–with a lot of help from a faith in something larger than myself. But one never knows until then huh?

  3. Death comes when death comes. There is nothing that you can do about it. You can avoid it temporarly, you can plan for it but sooner or later it comes. There is nothing noble about killing or death, the cause for which you kill or die for may be noble but not the act of killing or death. I have seen people waste away with cancer and people die in a millisecond in an industrial accident. Both deaths sucked. I have waited for my father to die a slow death knowing that there was nothing that I could do but be strong for those around me that were falling apart. I had to postpone my grief so as to support others. It seemed cold to some at the time but it was necessary. A truly valuable man (or woman) is one that can keep his head when others are falling apart. The best that one can do is to develop a bias to action and a bias to horror. You must be able to do violence when necessary and to deal with horror when required. Plan for the worse, hope for the best , handle what comes.

  4. I suppose this is a subject not to be ignored and I can offer nothing novel. NO person can. Nothing wrong with sharing thoughts, experiences, beliefs. Atheists, Christians, ALL have no answers at THAT time. An IQ, a strong spirit, education, NOTHING can supply an answer or an acceptable understanding. I think each person may face it on a case by case basis. I DO deeply care about others and myself and want to life eternally with God. But struggle with that too. There seems to no consistency to life or death. I partially read a book one time called “How We Die”, which was written by a doctor and was 100% honest and unbiased. It was good to read. But still no ultimate truths or strength. All my time listening to ministers has not turned my page of life to an understanding. So, I will continue to TRY and prayerfully ask to face death strong and looking to peach. I would like this subject to more discussed as it is the surest thing we ALL face, sooner or later. ANY understanding would be a help. I do think there is a God (a good God), I am not sure any minister understands it any more than I do. Many are misinformed and some lie. God does not, but I don’t understand God.

    More comments from ALL please.

    1. Romney, I don’t know if you are an American, and I don’t know how other countries deal with death and dying, but in America, death is sterile on one hand and a game on the other. Computer games have the players get excited when they make a kill, but it’s also sterile when a person doesn’t die at home but somewhere else, where others clean the body, dress it and do cosmetics. How can healthy grieving take place? These days people even hold ‘Celebration of Life’ parties as funerals. We have been distanced from it so much in the last 150 years, that it’s more a word than an experience. Oh, there’s the typical jargon of comfort that gets us through it, at least.

      The God part? If a person believes in creation, they know that the cycle of life was part of that. The ‘Adam and Eve in sin’ wasn’t the beginning of death, it was the beginning of judging good and bad. The fruit of the tree of knowledge was ‘judgement’, or ‘ recognition’ of the surety of the cycle, not punishment for for sin. I think we believed a lie.That was the tree of knowledge not the tree of poison. We don’t have to tie death to punishment. Nothing in the physical realm is immortal, only things of the the spiritual realm.. The minute we ‘germinate’,our life force is activated, and the cycle begins. The good news is that naturally all life produces seed for life to follow. I doubt that humans are the only species that can teach behavior, but that’s one way that survival is fostered. Survival is not for each generation, but for the species. That behooves us to teach survival skills to each generation, and in that way we have played our roles well.

      Ministers are just people. Some are more mature than others, some will never have answers. If you look to God for answers, just observe nature for the physical answers, and the Bible for spiritual ones, ….but I wouldn’t expect much from other people.

      Many years back, I had a dream that I was riding in the back seat of a car, and on leaving the freeway, we didn’t make the turn, so we went off, up in the air. Of course it was slow motion, and I had time to realize that when we hit we would all be dead, and when it happened there was a calm silence with no pain. Since then I don’t fear dying, and actually, I was on my deathbed (or so the doctors said) when I felt ready to go. My prayer was that either way was fine with me. That was almost 13 years ago. Of course, today I would avoid pain and suffering if I could, but only if I thought I had a chance to fight it out with an assailant would I fight to live. BTW, I have no money or insurance, so I had a carpenter build me a cabinet with removable shelves. It’s built to my body measurements, so my family has been instructed to put me in and screw the door shut when I’m gone. I see it every day and am constantly reminded that it will go into the ground with me, if it works out that way; so, I live my life as close as I can to no regrets, learning all I can and teaching all I can, so that this one piece of DNA will have served a purpose well. That’s the ultimate goal, to hear the words, ‘Well done.” Death, you will not escape it, so make the most of life.

  5. “You are an American” … what does that even mean, Rick. I’m not an American, I’m a human being. I have all the same thoughts, fears, strengths and weaknesses as ‘Americans’ What’s the mindset that says something like that ? What – its supposed to make your readers feel validated, feel somehow more capable? What does it mean ?

  6. Thanks for this, brother.

    Very good topic. Definitely opens people’s nostrils.

    Many self-reliant people, but he “all guns, no groceries” crowd in particular, is deficient in this area for sure. Groups seem to be a little better prepared, but most cringe at the prospect of stocking body bags or that many municipalities contract with meat packing plants to use refrigerated reefers (trailers) for mobile morgues in response to mass casualty scenarios. They aren’t likely to prepare for the psychological impact either. If you find yourself in this scenario, use a shower curtain or a poncho. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some bleach or VapoRub.

    Don’t underestimate the psychological consequences either. Many people volunteer to help in emergencies and end up needing counseling after it forces them to deal with death. It’s taboo in modern Western culture, but it shouldn’t be.

    1. That’s my point. Stay alive, but prepare for the fact that not everyone will, and it will be ugly. I should have said western culture”. A quote from “Apocalype Now”: ‘Make a friend of horror or it will destroy you”.

    2. Thanks.
      Yea, I mentioned few times that as a part of prepping very good idea is to volunteer in emergencies, or to help the homeless or similar. On that way you can see how death actually is close to all of us, and how it looks.
      It can prepare you on some things.

      1. Good Stuff, Selco.

        As for your friend, since he followed Jesus, he probably did not think of himself as a good man, even though he was, in the human perspective. Jesus makes decent people even better, and I would say that applied even to your friend. That is what he wanted you to know, of this I am sure.

        Thank you for helping us and serving us, Selco. You are a good man!

  7. Thank you Selco. And now for something complety different; a bloated body beside the road.
    My first encounter with death came when I was 19, and a story in the local paper told of a man who cashed his paycheck at a local grocery store and on his way out the door was kidnapped by a thug with a gun. He forced him at gunpoint to drive to a local industrial park, where he tied him to a tree and shot him repeatedly in the head.
    We recognized the spot from tele and went out there, and the first sign was lots of pepsi cans and fast food containers: no beer drinking kids or local punks go out in nowhere to drink sodas and eat burgers.
    We got out and poked around but the sickly-sweet stench of dried blood told us we were in the right spot. If you’ve ever smelled sun-dried blood you know the smell: it’s universal.
    More than 6 years later I was in West Africa and was walking a road with friends. The smell came before the sight, hidden behind sugar cane and we found some poor bugger who had been walking with a spade over his shoulder when he was struck by lightening. To this day what I remember, and always will, is his shoe was the first thing we found, more than 40 metres from the body.
    I recognized the smell first but my fellow travelers were completely naive. Once you’ve smelled death it never leaves your nostrils, and for the rest of your life you will remember that first moment in a flashback to scenes you thought you had forgotten. Though I hope it is a bad past memory, I know in my heart of hearts it will revisit me someday. I just know I must do all I can to make sure it is not one of my family whose stench begins to rise.

  8. My first experience with death was when I was 14, A friend and I witnessed 4 men drown after their car ran off a bridge. We tried to save them, but all we could could do was watch them die. Years later I tried to save the life of a friend who had shot himself , to no avail. Then lastly I watched my mother die, suffocating from ALS. There is nothing noble or clean about death, I can agree. Most people defecate and/or urinate themselves, and do all of the things you have mentioned. But watching my mother pass, and the dignity in which she left, was inspiring, such as your friend. What did these people have in common? Faith in a supreme being. No matter what your religious faith, belief in God and living your life in service of others, tend to make people more at peace. I have since seen many more people pass, and it is the same in every case. I’m not trying to push religion, or convert anyone, but you really don’t find many atheist in a foxhole. Believe in something, and live your life treating others as you wish to be treated. And those who do not reciprocate? Well do what you must and keep your conscience clear. 🙂

  9. Many years ago, during the Vietnam war, I was standing post with a Thai soldier We were posted together many times and we talked about a lot of things. One day we talked a little about death. I remember him telling me this, “When Buddha says it is your time, you go”:
    Fast forward to Desert Storm. I spent a lot of time with a Saudi Lt. We openly and honestly talked about a lot of things. I remember him telling me the following one night while we listened to the BBC on my radio, drank warm camel milk, and smoked. “Mohammed says, when it is your time to go it is your time to go”.
    I know from my beliefs that no one knows the number of their days.
    It appears to me that this is a universal truth and just wanted to share it. For what it’s worth.

  10. I was with my mother just before she died. She had a minor stroke when she was 93, and I traveled to another state to my brother’s home, to see her then. She was frustrated because she was having trouble speaking, but her mind was intact. The next day, she had another stroke that took even speech from her, and not long after that, she quit eating. I knew what she was doing. She had always said she did not want to be a ‘vegetable” — did not want a long, lingering death. She was choosing her own way to leave. I had to go home, but about 2 weeks later I went back up to see her. Through hand pressures and very slight head movements, she let me know she was “still in there,” but she had quit drinking any liquids at that point, and I could not get her to take any water. She just clamped her lips shut. We said goodbye there, that day, to my mother, and within an hour, we got a phone call on the way home telling us she had died. To me, choosing your way of leaving is noble. Death is never pretty, but there is more than one way to die.

  11. my take on death and dying: you first!

    While it is inevitable, it is not unavoidable in the present. Plenty of people have faced death and seen the grim reality that it is, your situation is not special.

    Get over yourself.

  12. I have watched people die. It’s sometimes sudden and confusing like when they are shot and they just fall into a pool of their own blood. Their eyes still open and in pain. It is so hard to watch them like that and you want it to end. Then it does and you feel bad…I saw a couple drive bys like that.

    I once saw an old man. He was helping a little girl. They were trying to get through a rough part of town and they were scurrying like mice. He hid her partially behind him and he got hit by a stray bullet. He went down but was still alive. The little girl didn’t want to leave his side and was crying, but bullets were flying and he begged her to run. She ran behind a large concrete column and stayed watching him try to get out of the range of firing and crying. Then he was shot again in the head. The last time he looked at her, he looked through her and reached out his hand to her. Then he fell quiet with his eyes still open looking through her. The little girl was alone and cried most of the hours after that. It happens so fast. Yet is seems to take so long.

    It is hard to remember.

  13. As a paramedic and a nurse, I am no stranger to death. Whether it presented itself in a ditch or in an ICU, each incident was a unique experience. I draw my strength and comfort from a relationship with Jesus.

    At the realization of impending death, the most ardent atheist will find no substitute for Christ.

    My death will be ok because I know where I will go after this world.

  14. This is a good article. Thank you for sharing, as always.

    I’ve no experience with war. While my family does have a military tradition going back a very long time, I still don’t consider myself yet worthy of understanding topics like this (I’m not in the military). That being said, I also know many dead people. That’s what happens when you’re much younger than most of your relatives. I know what it is to lose loved ones and friends, but war must be entirely different.

    Your efforts to educate has been invaluable to me.

  15. My first experience with death was when I was about 4 years old and my grandfather died suddenly. ha asked to sit on his lap and he said “wait a minute” and fell onto the floor. I was told I had nightmares afterward but I don’t remember that. I remember him as a very kind man. He was my buddy.
    I took care of my husband when he was sick for several years and he died at home this September. You think you are doing okay and then suddenly you feel like crying for no reason or you forget something important or do something stupid you would not ordinarily do. The hospice nurse said that your body has a lot of hormones acting up wen you grieve a loved ones death.
    I believe 100% in Jesus Christ and know I will be okay and will see him again as he was a believer too. That makes a lot of difference. He death was fairly peaceful but still not easy by any means.
    One thing I think is that you can expect it to throw you for a loop even if it is expected especially if it changes your whole life..

  16. Sorry, but I’m a nurse too. I was once a christian, but exposure to death in hospital wards destroyed my faith in organized religious beliefs. I don’t begrudge people having their own beliefs but most people in the stage of bargaining will bargain with everything and everyone, Christ included. At the same time, very,very rare is the person that can be consistently strong alone for so long, that’s why we have religion and spirituality.

    HOWEVER, when stating this:

    “the most ardent atheist will find no substitute for Christ.”

    you are implying an absolute. And it only takes a single exception to prove an absolute wrong. AND in some cases, beliefs in certain “absolutes” can and WILL kill.

  17. When a person is dying a long slow death their body stops desiring food and even loses the ability to digest food. In the final stage of this process not even water can be taken by the dying person. Most likely you are not understanding the situation and misinterpreting things. Most likely she was not choosing to stop eating. It was merely the natural dying process you witnessed..

  18. I have personal experience but still I want to share a few words. Death and life, both are reality. But the thing is that we only remember all this when we face all these conditions. In today’s time science has grown too much and we think that we can do anything. But death makes us realize that what we are. In movies death is just to make the things interesting. In movies it is just to show that our hero can do anything or simply movies are completely different from the real life. A 3 hour movie can tell us how to live, but cannot take us away from the reality. And death is a reality which we should accept. I think that you have chosen a great topic for discussion.

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