January 19


One day, Death came knocking on my door…

“And I lift my glass to the awful truth
Which you can’t reveal to the ears of youth
Except to say it isn’t worth a dime
And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
And it’s once for the devil and once for Christ
But the boss don’t like these dizzy heights
We’re busted in the blinding lights
Of closing time”

– Leonard Cohen – “Closing Time”

One day, Death came knocking on my door…

I cracked the door open with the chain lock still in place, peered out with a suspicious glance, and asked to the figure standing there, “Who are you?” 

“I am Death,” equably replied the voice from the other side. 

In shock and surprise, I immediately slammed the door shut. I convinced myself it must be a dream and continued to go about my business.

The following day, there was another knock on my door. I peered through the peep hole to confirm and saw Death standing there just as before. However, I decided this time to ignore it and pretend that Death wasn’t there.

But faithfully and true, Death came knocking the next day…and the next.

Eventually, after several weeks, begrudgingly I decided to open the door and let Death inside. When I did, Death walked in and quietly took a seat in the corner of the room. I was deeply unnerved by Death’s seemingly benevolent and peaceful demeanor.

I furiously asked, “Why are you here!?”

Death looked at me and replied calmly, “It is your time.”

Death’s response pushed me over the edge. It’s the last thing I wanted to hear. I began pacing up and down the hallway, stomping my feet, angrily beating my fists against the wall, and howling in desperation, “Why me!?…Why now?!…This isn’t fair!…What have I done to deserve this!?…There has to be another way!”

Exasperated, I slumped to the floor and began kicking and screaming like a child having a tantrum. When my cries were finally depleted, I then got up and slinked out the back door onto the porch to compose myself and try to make sense of what was happening.

All the while, Death stayed seated, watching my every move, steady and unperturbed.

Eventually, after I cooled off, I decided to have a seat at the kitchen table. I offered Death the seat across from me. Death smiled at me and stood to join me at the table. 

As we sat down together, I reasoned out loud, “Well, since it is my time, I suppose we should get to know each other.” 

Death seemed quite surprised at my statement. “I don’t hear that very often,” Death replied.

Still frustrated, I continued, “Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting you, and I’m very upset at your sudden arrival.”

Death replied, “Most people are, and I accept your confession.”

Quizzically I asked, “Confession? What do you mean?”

Death responded, “Most people never take the opportunity to get to know me, and for many they are so consumed by their fear and the ideas that they have about me that they never stop to see me for who I am. Because the truth is, if you were really paying attention, I’ve been here all along.”

With a bemused and curious look on my face, I asked, “How so?”

“I will give you a few examples,” Death said.

“I was there when your mother and father made the choice to conceive you. At the time, they didn’t give me any thought, but I was there when they signed off on the agreement to collaborate in your creation. And from the moment you were conceived, I’ve been here every single day. My arrival was included in their decision to create you.”

“I never thought of that,” I replied pensively. “Please go on.”

Death continued, “Over the years, there were many chances for you to get to know me. I was there when you were five years old and your pet goldfish died. It was one of the first chances that you could have gotten to know me, but instead your parents got you another goldfish the following day so you wouldn’t get to feel sad.”

“I vaguely remember that,” I responded.

Death continued, “As I’m sure you do remember, you were eight years old when your grandmother died. This too was another great opportunity that you could have gotten to know me, but your parents decided you were too young to be a part of her dying.”

“I do remember that,” I replied despondently. “I remember feeling very confused. I didn’t understand what was going on.”

Death further explained, “Later, when you were twenty-five years old, your dear friend Alex was diagnosed with cancer. He died within a few months of his diagnosis. You could have gotten to know me then, but you blamed me as the source of your pain and spent the following ten years numbing away your deep pain and sadness with alcohol and getting lost pursuing your career.”

At this point, I was speechless and felt the tears welling in my eyes.

Death continued, “I was also there on your wedding day. On that day, you made a choice to marry your wife, and that very special choice was the ending of all other possibilities. In your vows, you briefly glossed over the statement ‘til death do us part’. This promise was a tremendous opportunity for you to connect more deeply to the inevitable ending of your relationship with your wife that comes at the end of your lives. Can you imagine how different your relationship with her would have been if you would have included the ending of your days as a real and present part of your love every day? What depth might this have added to your bond?”

I didn’t know how to respond as I reflected on the years of our marriage feeling the nostalgia and regret surging through me.

“These are just a few examples, and your story is not different from the majority of people,” Death continued. “You see, you live in a culture and society that deeply fears me and holds tightly to the many misconceptions and beliefs they have about me. So, in order to know me, you have to be willing to face your fears and to have the courage to get to know your discomfort and sorrow without immediately running away from it or numbing it away. Still, by choosing to let me in now, you’ve given yourself and all those in your life an immense gift. Not many people ever do that, and the consequences are often drastic.”

“Drastic? How so?” I replied somewhat tentatively.

“Perhaps you will remember your seven-year-old cousin, Sasha, who‘s entire family refused to answer the door or offer a seat when I came knocking at her door. They barricaded themselves inside and dug a trench around their home filled with positivity and hope. They chose to see me as an enemy that must be defeated because they believed I was stealing away her opportunity to live a ‘full life,’ and they did everything they could to make sure I could never get close to them. For a while, my arrival was postponed. Yet as it always is, their battle was eventually lost. Ultimately, the madness of their fight lay waste to their family of which, like so many like them, the bitter crumbles of divorce are all that remain. Yet if they only would have put down their swords and shields, it didn’t have to go the way it did.”

Death continued, “You see, it is not more life affirming to make life a battle between living and dying or to deny that I could ever bring any value to your days. The idea of a ‘full’ vs. ’empty’ life is an affliction and a curse that adults pass on to children because of the fear they have of their own limits and endings. The truth is, if you do not let your life and love be informed and changed by my presence in your life, you miss out on the richness, depth, and gratitude that the practice of grief inherently adds to life.”

“Grief is not a feeling. It is a capacity. It is not something that disables you, we are not on the receiving end of grief we are on the practicing end of grief.”

“If grief is a way of loving that which has slipped from view, it is also true that love is a way of grieving that which has yet to.”

– Stephen Jenkinson

“You’re right,” I acknowledged. “I’ve lived my life with so much fear and bitterness. But what can I do now? Is it too late for me?”

Death replied, “No, it’s not too late. Your dying is a profound opportunity for you to share with your family and all those around you. What matters is not what you die of but how you die. And how those around you are able, or are not able, to partake in your dying is an experience that will carry on long after you die. Your ability to meet your limits and endings and share all the emotions that arise with them is something that they will have an opportunity to take part in if you so choose to let them.”

Death continued, “You see, your dying is not yours. By choosing to die well, you offer our world and each and every person who is a faithful witness to your dying an opportunity to touch and experience their own dying and their own endings. We live in a world that does not believe in limits or endings, and to choose to be human is a radical act. Most keep their deaths small, hidden, and quiet, and few are ever able to partake of the beautiful blessing it can be. Dying is an gift that few ever give.”

“Wow…I’m not sure I’m able to do that,” I replied hesitantly. “It seems like such a big responsibility.”

Death responded, “You’re right. It is a big responsibility. But remember, the invitation here is to be human, not a ‘perfect’ human that must look and die in a certain ‘dignified’ way. And you are by no means obligated to do anything. However, your dying is a gift to our world that only you can give. A gift of what it can look like to be wholly human.”

Your death is not yours. Your death is a banquet feast for your family, your community, and the rest of our world. It is their nourishment and sustenance. It’s up to you if they get to eat.


  • The act of being born is a universal call for kinship with Death.
  • If you’re really listening, Death means you no harm, but it does mean you.
  • Limits and endings are what call our humanity into profound disrepair. In a world that doesn’t believe in limits or endings, the most generous and courageous gift one can give is to deeply know their human limits, frailties, and endings.
  • To deny, fight against, or ignore death are not “life affirming” or “life positive” approaches.
  • If you do not allow your love to be transformed by the presence of death, you miss out on the richness and depth that can be had. What might it truly mean to love someone so much that you love them including their dying too?
  • To die well, does not mean to passively accept death. It is possible to wish you were not dying while you deeply know that you are. This is the essence of grief.
  • Perhaps it is possible to miss those who are dying before they are dead, and perhaps this might be what transforms love from black and white into full color. Why wait to start grieving the ones we love?
  • Dying well is an immense responsibility and a radical act in a death-phobic culture.
  • The practice of grief is the crucible upon which love and gratitude come into sobering view.
  • Death is all around us and is intrinsic to all of life. It’s up to us if we are willing to stop and see or involve death in our experience. It might be worth wondering…
    • What are the consequences of buying in to the death-phobia that pervades our culture?
    • What value might the immediate presence of death bring to my life?
  • All limits, endings, and deaths that you partake in are opportunities for you to learn about, experience, and prepare for your own…Get closer…
  • Death is the rich soil from which all life is born. Without the immediate presence of death, the fullness of life is not possible.
  • To die well means that your death is not yours, but includes all those in your life and the society and culture of which you live.
  • Perhaps it is possible that humans are not born but are made. That is to say, in a world that greatly reveres all things otherwise, being human is a skill that must be learned, practiced, and labored over.

About the author

I advocate for the mutual nourishment of the personal and collective human spirit and all beings of the Earth by the open sharing of beauty, gratitude, and sorrow and the regular practice of grief in conversations, gatherings, writings, poetry, ceremony, and song.

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  1. Very interesting. Thank you.

    I remember people saying that someone had “died well” or “died as he had lived”. Death is a part of life and while it’s good to not rush into it early, it’s also good to accept it when it is inevitable so that whatever life is left can be lived.

    1. As a paramedic and respiratory therapist, I often hear people talk about “sudden” or “unexpected” death. It seems to me that this is more of a confession than a reality about death. What might it mean to begin to live our lives in the present reality of our own death? How might doing so influence our relationships with others and all the beings in this world?

      As an avid gardener and homesteader, rich composted dirt is the epitome of a good death personified. It allows for all of life to flourish from its richness. On the other hand, hard rocky soil that has a crust over it is very hard to work with. What are our deaths and all the daily deaths around us teaching us? What legacy about death are we leaving for future generations?

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