Talking About Death So You Can Be Better At Living
I talk to my five year old about death every day.
As my wife’s cancer progressed my son had many questions. There’s nothing like the unvarnished directness of a child’s questions to make you stop and think.
“When will mommy die?”
“Will she come back from the hospital?”
I made the choice to answer his questions as directly as I could. To be honest. No sugarcoating and no added mystery. I wasn’t going to kick the can down the road and say shit like, “Mommy’s going to sleep for a very long time” or “She’ll be in heaven looking down on us.”
He deserved to know what was happening to his mother and to his life. We all die. We can’t escape this truth. Better to face it head on.
We talk about lost relatives, and our own mortality. We visit cemeteries whenever we’re close to one. We look at the tombstones and calculate their ages. What members of the family are buried there. How they died.
Morbid? I used to think so. Now I look forward to talking about the dead and the lessons they carry. The most important insights come from our relationship with death. Death is a powerful reason to get on with living.
“Remembering that you’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make big decisions in life.” Steve Jobs
Being alive is a complacency trap. You always believe you’ll have more time. You think, it won’t be me who dies suddenly at 50 like that guy down the street. It’s wishful thinking. My wife was 39 years old when she died. A healthy, playful, and beautiful human that was planning on a very long life.
Zeno was a young man when he was the same advice by the Oracle. “To live the best life, you should have conversations with the dead.” I imagine the Oracle meant to learn from the voices and lives of the dead. My advice is to talk to the living about death.
Talk to your children about death. Talk to your family about your inevitable death and theirs. Talk to yourself about death. You might find a lot more to live for.