Trigger warning: This is an article about death. For some, this subject can elicit strong negative reactions and feelings. If you feel this can happen to you, please be careful.
Terri and I sit together in the small coffee shop at the Panama Hotel in Seattle. Five minutes
ago we met in person for the first time, although we have known each other much longer on Instagram.
"...and that's why I think it's good that we were able to meet today. My uncle was only 62 when he died of cancer. Time is so precious," I say as the server sets our drinks down on the massive maroon table.
"Oh God, Sarah, we've barely sat down and we're already talking about death," Terri interjects, a little startled.
“I'm sorry,” I want to say, but I don’t. Because it’s not true. For me, death has become a normal topic of discussion for many reasons. It is frequently in my thoughts or my conversations. It is the one fate all people will all ultimately share. Whether we are rich or poor, good or bad, hardworking or lazy, healthy or sick, no one escapes death. So why try to run away from it mentally? Shit doesn't get less shitty because we avoid talking about it. On the contrary, once we become aware of it, and if we think about it beforehand, we have much more control over how we react to it.
So let's talk about death!
Why are we so reluctant to talk about death? What kind of question is that? I think it's a good one! Often, the first answer is: nobody likes to think about the end.
But why, actually? Well, maybe because we are afraid. Of illness and pain. Of what may or may not come afterwards. Of how our loved ones will be when we are gone. Or simply because we have already lost someone, and the subject still weighs heavily upon us. I raise my hand for all of these points.
In addition, there is the thought that everything we are and everything that we have created simply stops with our death. Of course, for some of us, children and grandchildren will still live on, with their memories intact. But for our great-grandchildren and beyond, we are just images in faded photos, and even if there are one or two legendary stories about us that live on, those stories are seldom accurate.
Phew. Is there anything more depressing? In my opinion, yes! And that is that we do not realize until it is too late what we could have done and should have done before death intervenes unexpectedly.
First, the transitory nature of life is nothing beautiful. It is taboo to discuss it, and it is fraught with horror. But think: the realization that life is finite gives us the opportunity to live our lives more consciously. Don't we do something special again on the last day of our vacation to really savor the trip? Don't we go out on the last warm day of the year? Don't we pay a quick visit to the friend who will soon be moving away? We do these things because we know that these are things which will soon come to an end. Knowing that an event will end is a thought that is sometimes burdensome, but it may also spur us to further action.
If we talk about death more openly and meet the topic with intention instead of fear, we can put less energy into
avoiding and worrying about it and more time into enjoying the present and making plans for the future.
I'm only in my early 30s, and yet death has already touched me so many times. In 2013, my grandma died overnight, totally unexpectedly, from a stroke. In 2019, my uncle died of cancer at the age of only 62. In 2020, a friend from the USA died of cancer in his late 50s. This spring, a former acquaintance died of a heart attack at 46. My boyfriend is almost 45 years older than I am. We know that, purely statistically, our remaining time together is much less than for couples who will probably grow old together when both partners are in their 30s.
Not thinking about death is impossible for me. It is always present. It is in my past, and it will always be in my future. My alternatives: I could hide in a dark hole, or I could draw my lightsaber and say threateningly, "So, death, let's see how beautiful life can be before your inevitable arrival."
That is a sentence that sometimes takes an infinite amount of energy to say. One that doesn't work out equally well every day. And yet it is essential for me and my joy of life.
Last Saturday, my 98-year-old grandpa told me stories of camping trips he took with my grandma back in the 1960s. A photo of my grandma still hangs above his sofa in the living room showing her smiling mischievously. As my grandpa tells me about an especially funny mishap that happened during a rainy tent vacation in Bavaria, we laugh out loud and look at my grandma's photo on the wall at the same time. For a moment, her face blurs and the three of us all laugh together. These are the moments when death seems very small, and my lightsaber shines especially bright.
When we talk or think about death—that of others and our own—we should not focus on the difficult moments, but on the beautiful moments and memories we have accumulated together. We should not think about whom we have lost, but about whom we have been privileged to know. What that person left us and gave us, what they would want for us, and how we can live on for them.
We should not count down the days to our own death with dread but see them as a space we can fill by
fulfilling dreams, starting needed changes, and leaving good memories for others. Nothing is infinite - but that's what makes our possibilities almost infinite. Because we no longer try
to dodge a somber issue, but we deal with it openly. Because we no longer worry in secret, we can let go, just as we did on the last day of our vacation. Whatever time we have
left, live it, live it along with others, collect experiences like chocolates in a box. Be are aware that at some point it will end, but really, all we have left is the
now. Use it.
You can also find more about this topic in my reports: