Death as a Teacher

A few years ago my older son asked me a stunningly tough question for a 5 year old. He said, “Mom, if you could get rid of death so that nobody had to die, would you?” I thought about it for a long time and answered, “No.” Before I could explain he started to cry. He said, “You mean you want to die and leave me?” Death is a hard concept for an adult, never mind for a child. Our culture ignores death in many ways with an extreme focus on fighting aging as if it’s a bad thing. As I watch the people around me color their hair, fight their sagging breasts, go through procedure after procedure to eliminate wrinkles…I’m often left wondering how it could be that our culture is so disconnected from the natural process of aging. None of us is more powerful than Mother Nature and she has set aging in motion. If I’m lucky enough to live until I’m 80+ years old, I’ll consider myself lucky to have gray hair, wrinkles, and saggy breasts! But the reason I said no to my son was because I think of death as a teacher on how to live. If we can keep one eye on death then we can remember to live our lives in integrity and remain aligned with the values we hold close to our hearts.

When I was first married I had a hard time dealing with the relative chaos of living with my husband and his two kids. I went from living alone in a pristine, tiny house to living with the three of them in a much larger and much older house. I would get so internally mad when I got home from work because I would find evidence of other people’s messes such as crumbs on the kitchen counter. I would mention it to my husband and then it would happen again…and again… Finally I realized that I was the only one seeing these crumbs and I was the only one that had a problem with them. Then I put an eye on death as my teacher. Death told me, “You’ll miss that crumb-making man when he’s dead. Eventually there will be no more crumbs.” WOW! What an impact that made on me. Although I can still get caught up in the small stuff at times, death is always there as a reminder of what’s important. And what’s important to me is LOVE! So as I clean up those crumbs I think about how much I love the man who left them there. And my heart stays open.

Death is a very difficult and unyielding teacher. I was reminded of my tearful conversation with my older son because recently my daughter, who is now 5 years old, has been asking similar questions. Sometimes she’ll burst into tears saying, “I don’t want to die,” or, “I don’t want you to die ever.” I always think, “Me neither! Except I fear that I wouldn’t be as conscious and loving as a mom and as a human being if death weren’t teaching me how.”


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