Draw the blinds, open the windows, and let the sun in, my friends—it’s time to talk about it.
What is this “it”?
I want to emphasize life. However… in order to properly emphasize life we have to talk about issues we usually avoid at all costs.
For all ages—young, old, and everyone in between.
Death is the one reality we all share.
To everything… there is a beginning and an end.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago about dealing with the changing of the seasons in our life. Things are changing… and changing quickly. The subject was spurred in me because I was in Virginia to visit my 87-year-old mom in the hospital. She is home now, on the road to recovery and planning to live for a long time.
That is how it should be. We should all embrace life and enjoy it.
It is a gift from God and it is precious.
It is a lesson I am learning. There was a time (not too long ago) when I had my foot planted on the gas pedal to the floorboard and burying the needle of my life speedometer in a race to my demise. I simply didn’t take care of myself.
I now have pumped the brakes and slowed down in the race to end my life. To date, I have lost 125 lbs. (more to lose for sure) and started to make real change in my life. I see things in a clearer way than I did.
However, sometimes it is hard to slow down the results of living your life without the slightest concern for your health. Not to mention, when you slow down and spend time in reflection you see errors and mistakes you made in the things you said or did to your family and friends.
Losing 125 lbs. is so much easier than trying to fix the stupid you were at times.
So why am I talking about life and death? Well… one reason is that I need to heed to this advice. I have found that I have failed in treating my eventual death with any real concern.
I need to apply these truths.
More importantly, discussing death is actually more about emphasizing life.
I want to emphasize life.
I am learning that how we choose to live our life in the later seasons of our living years will tell us how to live and die without regret.
And, for the record, I’m not talking about death because I long for it or because I believe that others to need to quickly do something about it.
I am at the age that I believe I have more days in the rearview mirror than we I on the road ahead. And to be clear—we’re all going to die, right? We can agree on that.
If there’s any doubt, let me be the bearer of bad news:
55 million people alive right now will be dead within 12 months. That breaks down to 151,600 people dying each day, 6,316 people each hour, 105 each minute, and 2 people each second.
Think about that for a minute. (in which time 120 more people will have died).
And I don’t intend to be so carefree with such a heavy subject. There is mind-boggling loss and grieving going on in the world. I know people are suffering and living with deep pain, trying to figure out how to survive and go on—alone and wounded. Personally, it’s incomprehensible to imagine. Like most people, I don’t want to go there, and not so much for me and my death, as much as it is for those in my life.
However, that story of loss and resilience is a story we’ll save for another day. Today, we will look at death from what we can only hope is at arm’s length—even if that arm’s length is an illusion. And we won’t pretend to embrace death with bear hugs and high-fives. Instead, I want to approach death with a wisdom that knows what we’re really embracing is impermanence, change, and an acceptance of who we are beneath our flesh and bones.
Step 1: Get your affairs in order.
As long as we’re agreed that we’re all going to die, it makes sense to get ready for it, euphemistically known in the circles as “getting your affairs in order.” One thing I am not talking about is going through your “stuff” and designating it to a child or grandchild. I say live and own your “stuff” until you don’t. Somber tone aside, the language works. We are getting our affairs in order. We’ve been doing it since we were old enough to walk. Why stop now?
Getting your affairs in order involves taking all kinds of positive steps, including creating a living will, declaring power of attorney, planning for the end of life medical care, perhaps donating your organs. It also means digital planning—what happens to your electronic bills, your Facebook page, your entire digital footprint? The world you leave online is real. You’ll also want to decide on the disposition of your body, the type of funeral you want, the song you want to be played at your funeral. Dealing with these smaller tasks is not only practical, but it’s also a gift for those you leave behind. Most importantly, it means you have to start thinking about death, talking about it, and engaging in tough conversations. Once you make your arrangements, store them safely and then get back to living.
Step 2: Quit trying to fool yourself. You know who you are.
Sure, you could get hit by an ice cream truck and have yourself a Spielberg-worthy near-death experience—complete with bright white lights and Elvis waiting for you at the end of a long tunnel. Perhaps all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed to you before you have to come back to your body and a home filled with dirty dishes. OR, there is an alternative—you could close your eyes and seek the same awareness through allowing God to really get ahold of you.
Having a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ is not only about creating more mindfulness and peace in your life; it’s about finding deeper connections with yourself. Embracing death begins by discovering for ourselves that we are not our eyes, hair color, sex, career choice, bank account, or family. We are “something else.” And finding this “something else” unmasks death as the illusion it is.
Step 3: Simplify your life and make room for what matters.
A “less is more” mentality is the perfect way to embrace death and the “can’t take it with you” transitory nature of life. Simplifying is a clearing out that allows more into our lives (something we should have been doing our whole lives). We are not emptying the contents of our lives, we are filling it with only that which matters. Simplifying is our opportunity to not only “get our affairs in order,” but reset and refocus—to shift priorities that allow us to live a more intentional life.
Step 4: Say what needs to be said.
Share feelings. Show gratitude. Mend fences. Resolve conflicts. Tell people how you feel. Again, these lessons are valuable at any age. Hopefully, you were an early adopter. But, it’s never too late to learn from those who have inched close to death (on whatever side of the deathbed). Their message is always the same—life is too short to hold on, hold back, and not give it all we have. And, of course, we all know it’s true. But, how often do we do anything about it? It’s up to each of us to transform what can easily sound like a bumper sticker into a bold way of living. It takes choice. And action.
What are you holding in your pocket right now that you need to share? It may be exactly what someone needs to hear. Be vulnerable and share it.
Step 5: Talk news, weather, and sports…and a little death.
We need to talk about death more. I know it’s not something you want to bring up at a party, or in the cafeteria, or the elevator at work. There is no natural segue. “Floor 11 please…and while you’re at it, cremation or burial?” Life doesn’t work this way. For the most part, we keep our thoughts about death to ourselves, not even sharing with family or close friends. And this is true, especially as we get older and recognize that, in chronological time, we are on the back nine of life. At this point, we all have a choice. We can stay in chronological time, and keep watching the hourglass, feeling the hourglass, dreading the hourglass, OR we can unearth the wisdom that has come with that hourglass and use it to look at life that lives beyond chronological time. Of course, to do this, one must go deeper and start looking for the profound.
And it is only in the profound where we will find meaning. And it is only in meaning where we will find solace—not an escape from heartache or sorrow (that comes with the birth certificate)—but the solace to find meaning in death. And life.
While none of this will keep tears from falling when death touches close, maybe if we’re lucky, it will help dry them a little quicker, or at the very least, warm them with the glow that comes from knowing we are part of a universe that is more expansive and loving than we could have ever imagined.