Death a reminder to live



One look at my recent calendar will tell you that my weeks have been punctuated by funerals. Perhaps this is reflective of what it means to be a person of a certain age. Surely, it is not how anyone wishes to spend their days.

And yet, we are given a gift when we rub shoulders with death. Sometimes, in the quiet spaces when we truly listen, death tells us how to live.

Death reminds us of our passions, our hopes and dreams. It encourages us to become awake in lives where we too often slip into autopilot. It whispers to us, asking, “What do you love?” and then gently begs us to do it.

It nudges us off the hamster wheel and asks us to reevaluate our gifts, reminding us to use them. Sometimes it helps us recalibrate our priorities and gives us the courage to change.

It moves us to make certain that our lives count … that we speak up for what is good and right and just … to release those things that do not matter … to stop being petty so that we can forgive and love … and to stop spending so much precious time watching life and choose instead to live.

Death is, “one of the most alive people I’ve ever met,” writes the exquisite artist Brian Andreas. “Because Death does not take this lightly, the running your fingers like a prayer over every bit of the world …”

Many consider death a taboo subject. Why consider darkness while living in the light?

The answer is that it is almost impossible to talk about death without talking about life. It presents the opportunity to consider those things that give us delight and joy. Things like sleeping and waking up. Or the way the morning light turns the world from black to full color, with a transitional moment when the whole earth is bathed in blue. Or the smell of banana bread fresh from the oven. Or the way a well-loved library book feels in your hand. Or the way the birds negotiate the backyard feeder. Or the resonate tenor of a loved one’s voice.

It’s beautiful, all of it. And it’s fleeting.

My dad is the kind of man who appreciates the simple things of life. Together we celebrate small joys, repeat family stories and laugh. He appreciates the taste of a good cup of coffee and morning oatmeal, and enjoys the daily newspaper, which is still a thing in the city where he lives.

I recently shared a simple joy with him, telling him how I loved the feeling of slipping into warm covers at night, that I enjoyed moving from vertical to horizontal at the end of the day.

“Don’t you love that feeling, Dad?” I asked.

“No!” he said. “I hate it! It means another day is over.”

His answer is one I will never forget. My dad is 85. And while the days ahead may not be certain, indeed for any of us, just for a moment we are sharing this grand occasion of life. Whenever we can, we spend time together. We talk and banter and listen. We hug and kiss and breathe one another in. We say, “I love you.” Just for a moment, we’re here.

Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at