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Death as a Guide Towards Good Living

By Harriet Cabelly April 28, 2021 Lifestyle

“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.”

There is more to this poem, The Dash, but I will stop here.

How Are You Living Your Dash?

Does knowing there’s an end point guide you towards living well? As a society, we don’t talk much about death. Yet if we did, perhaps we’d live better. Many feel it is morbid to think about let alone talk about. I have a friend who upon her birthday always says, “One year closer to death.” We laugh. The brazenness of the statement is almost funny as it is so stark and true.

When my middle daughter went through a medical crisis, in a drug-induced coma and hooked up to a ventilator and many life-saving tubes for four months, I witnessed the fragility of life and came to fully comprehend how all of our lives hang by the thinnest of threads; and that the end will be upon us all at some point.

With every beep and bleep of machines, I hoped and prayed hers wasn’t at its end at the age of 19. Miraculously, she lived and fully recovered, and I went on to live with a greater appreciation and zest for life and a great sense of urgency in living life to its fullest, opening up to possibilities and opportunities. The world became my oyster.

Dr. Irwin Yalom, a renowned existential psychiatrist, quoted a patient in one of his books: “What a pity it is that I had to wait till now, till my body was riddled with cancer, to learn how to live.”

Do we really need to wait until that near catastrophe happens to begin to really live? The fully conscious acknowledgement of the finiteness of our lives could be the brightest light in illuminating our path towards living that rich life.

The Awareness of Death Can Help Us Savor Our Lives

Death can sit upon our shoulder as a compass, accompanying us on our journey, always pointing us towards living with fervor, intention, vivre and full engagement.

Otto Rank, an Austrian psychoanalyst said this very powerful statement, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.”

We’re all on loan here so why wait, put off, procrastinate. Why sit back; this is it, our one chance at life. Death is happening anyway so why take the passive route and simply hang on till the end. Might as well make the journey as meaningful and enjoyable as possible.

We all have regrets and those can be very painful. We obviously can’t go back and redo them, but we can go on with new possibilities, new growth.

Make a New Beginning

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” —Maria Robinson

Though the impermanence of life can be anxiety-provoking and sometimes melancholy, let’s open up the conversation around the reality of our death and live better.

And by the way, there are death cafes all over that meet once-a-month. Sounds strange? Maybe not. The conversations can be very enlivening.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” — Norman Cousins

How do you view death? Is it something you talk / think about? Does the awareness of it make you live differently?

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The Author

Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through their critical life-changing circumstances, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed meaning and purpose. Visit her website, https://rebuildlifenow.com/ and sign up to get free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.

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