Deep Thoughts

Why Thinking About Death is Worthwhile

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Potted petunias in my backyard.

Whenever I see a dead bird in my backyard, I feel sad. I consider this backyard with its flowers and shrubs and birdfeeder and birdbath to be a sanctuary for birds, bees, and butterflies. Those little creatures are welcome here.

This morning I was out mowing the lawn in the already oppressive heat. As I pushed the manual reel mower up alongside the house, I spotted a still, headless blue jay.

For the last week or so, there had been a young blue jay spending a lot of time at the feeder. I liked this bird because he didn’t yet know enough to fly away when I stood close by to watch him eat. This lack of fear probably contributed to his lack of life.

Listen to me read this post:

The dead blue jay made me think, “I’ve been walking the earth for fifty-one years. This little guy only lived for maybe fifty-one days.”

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A very-much-alive blue jay in my backyard a couple winters ago.

Life is Short and Death is Long

Our time is limited and mostly we don’t control how long we get to live. Death always makes me think of life. I feel sad and, at the same time, I feel profoundly grateful. The reality of inevitable death makes me cherish life and makes my own days that much sweeter.

It’s not that death is pleasant to think about or that I savour finding a young blue jay with its head torn off. It’s that death is the most effective, most present reminder of life. It’s more difficult to deeply appreciate life without seriously acknowledging death.

A Lucrative Industry

Our western culture is not big on death, and there’s a number of thriving industries that sell ways to prolong life and ways to avoid death. What a lucrative business and what a futile pursuit.

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I planted wildflowers this season to attract bees, birds, and butterflies.

I Keep Death Close

Death is a companion that I keep close. Some have said, “Don’t dwell on death! It’s so depressing.” What’s depressing to me is that by ignoring death I might take life for granted and thereby squander my time here on earth. Now that would be really sad.

I’m not gothic character. I don’t dress in black, I don’t wear heavy dark makeup around my eyes, and I don’t drink whisky from the bottle in late-at-night cemeteries. I don’t really dwell on death either; I just don’t let it far out of my sight.

Somehow, Sometime

Death reminds me that my fate is the same as the young blue jay’s. Well, maybe not the getting my head ripped off by a bird of prey part, but you never know. Like the blue jay, I will die somehow and sometime, and looking this fact straight in the eye helps me live more fully. Realizing my own death makes me realize my own aliveness. And to me, that makes thinking about death worth it.

Wildflowers

A variety of wildflowers in my backyard. (You’ll notice I didn’t post a photo of the headless blue jay. You’re welcome.)

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2 replies »

  1. This is a tricky one for me, Lori. I’ve always felt “young,” and even on my 50th birthday I could reason that I probably had another half of life to go. That mental sort of hoop-jumping falls away at 60. I applaud you for being able to look this in the eye–this being death–and boldly employ it as a means to appreciate life fully. I’m inclined to recall Dylan Thomas, who so feared death it’s said, that he drank himself into an early grave at 39. He’s my object lesson–don’t let the thing that most scares you do you in. So I tend to close the door on that dark closet, avert my eyes, and just keep on living and writing and hoping. My heart goes out to the little Blue Jay.

    • Yes, poor little blue jay. I think that if you’re okay not examining death every waking moment (like me!) that’s a perfectly fine way to live. It’s been helpful to me to consider my own mortality and to make friends with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s path. Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Amy. I appreciate the time you take to do this.

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