Making friends with death

Opinion: Columns

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Marc Blesoff

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. … Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs

We live in a society in which death is anathema, an enemy to be avoided at all costs. … We have become a society that worships youth, fitness, and health at the expense of the many lessons that could be learned from pain and loss. … By contrast, while the loss of physical existence is painful, it is precisely the impermanence of this life that renders it precious. Knowing that it will come to an end requires us to savor each moment of sweetness and sorrow, and waste not one opportunity for learning or love.  

Dr. Karen Wyatt

When people know they are going to die, that last year is often the most loving, most conscious, and most caring — even under conditions of poor concentration, the side effects of medication, and so on. So don't wait to die until you die. Start practicing now.

Stephen Levine

Last week's session in the IONS Conscious Aging Workshop program that I facilitate was titled, "Death Makes Life Possible."

Three weeks ago, our friend Sally Stovall had a stroke and died within 24 hours. As many in our community know, Sally was a tireless activist for Mother Earth and for Reparations. Sally was active and vibrant and oh-so-alive.

Sally was born a month after I was born.

Most of us never talk about death and if we do, it is usually someone else's death.

Right now, the suddenness of Sally's death allows me to honestly consider my own. The shock has helped strip away longstanding habit. In time, my honesty will fade back to routine denial.

A couple of years ago, as I was getting ready for bed, I suddenly realized that I always assume I will wake up the next morning. I stopped and, for the first time, I thought about that assumption. Then slowly, lightly, meticulously, I thought through one or two alternative scenarios. At first I felt scared, but that fear morphed into a liberating feeling. By the time I laid my head on the pillow that night, I was actually just fine with not waking up again. I had made friends with it.

Within days, I was back in the habit of just assuming I would awaken the next morning. Occasionally I remember that friendship.

Most of us try to avoid the sense that death can come at any time. Yet an awareness that each day or moment could be our last can help us appreciate our awesome physical existence. Can we relate to one another as if there were no tomorrow, or perhaps just a few tomorrows?

For all of us, this precious impermanent lifespan, no matter how long it lasts, is but the blink of an eye.

There's an imaginary continuum that extends from furious denial of aging and death to a full embrace of aging and death. Where do you stand on that continuum?

Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.

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