Thinking about death? Your should be. Here’s why.

6 min. to read.

The grey spring clouds were breaking slightly letting mottled sunlight spread across the grass. I was leaning against a chain-link fence, looking at a dirty patch. That grass in that spot was really a patchwork of sod, each piece freshly plugged back into its location on top of freshly turned dirt marking the last resting place of an incredible woman I know.

I’d spent the whole day thinking about her.

I got up early to write my eulogy, and I thought about her kindness and the way she made everyone around her feel loved and welcome. I prepared the church building for the service, and I thought about where she used to sit, and who she sat by, and how many people she hugged. I set up mics and turned on computers and checked the sound, and I thought about how clearly she loved Jesus.

And that's a wrap folks.  This is where it all ends up.  Photo Credit: unknown
And that’s a wrap folks. This is where it all ends up. Photo Credit: unknown

During the memorial service I got to hear family members and friends share how she had impacted their lives. One person who had struggled with the pain of abuse said, “She saved my life.” Driving to tyhe cemetary for the interring, I thought about all those people she had blessed over so many years.

Now I was standing looking at the grass. The service was over. Family was trickling away. The cemetary workers were rolling up the awning and putting away their tools—just another day of work for them. The gravestone hadn’t been installed yet. All that marked the spot was a little dirt showing through the sod.

Grass. A little dirt. And nothing else.

I’ve done a few funerals; they’re not new to me. But I haven’t stayed to the end of the interring since my dad died. That was when I was eleven; more than 30 years ago. I was much more emotional than I expected.

Have you thought about death lately?

Stop and join me, looking at this patch of grass.

Ten pieces of thick-cut sod, laid tightly in on top of freshly turned earth, so that the seam between the untouched grass and sod is barely visible. You only know it’s sod because you watched it being laid, and you can see little pockets of fresh dirt in the grass.

This is it.

This is where we end up. Set aside for a moment what you think about life after death. This isn’t a theological discussion. Put aside your proof texts, whether from the Bible or your biology textbook. I believe life continues after death. I believe eternity matters. But that’s a conversation for another day. Today, just look at the grass.

The grass will grow. The sod will take root. Then there will be nothing left to mark whatever kind of life you led. Maybe your family drops a grand on a nice tombstone for you. But that’s not you, it’s not your life, and to the world flying by, it’s meaningless.

Rich or poor, you will end up here. Sanguine, plegmatic, INFP, introverted—you’ll end up here. Happy, sad, bitter, joyful? You will end up here. Maybe you accomplished your dreams and made your million. Maybe you left bankrupt and jaded. Either way, you end up here.

Now, I’m not trying to depress you. I wasn’t depressed in the moment. I was moved and motivated. Why? Because it made something so very clear.

Your Moments Matter

This wonderful lady, incredibly selfless, kind and caring, was gone. All that was left was this dirty patch of grass. It struck me then how important, how precious each moment is.

The way you live your life matters more than you can possibly know. It doesn’t matter because of what you’re accumulating or accomplishing. Once under the grass, those things are gone. The moments of your life matter because the single most valuable thing you have is time and attention.

We sacrifice our families for career. We sacrifice our sanity for accomplishments. We fill our children’s schedules with activities and clubs and sports so they can become well-rounded people. And then we spend the interstitial moments, the moments between things, thumbing our way through Pinterest or the Huffingron Post.

What are we doing? We are spending our time and attention.

Each moment. Tick. Tick. Tick. We are spending. And what will our return be?

Quote - Thinking Death
Want to get clear on the value of your time? Start thinking about how          little of it you get. Photo Credit: Daniel James CC

Having spent the day thinking about this incredible woman, I saw what she got for her investment. She was surrounded by people who loved her and knew that she loved them. She was remembered for her kindness. There were folks who felt like her love had saved their lives.  She had spent her time on what mattered. She loved Jesus with all her heart. She never got caught up in controversy or theological argument or the culture wars. She welcomed people. She loved them. And people met Jesus through her love.

She invested her moments in the thing that matter most.

Our culture loves violence, but we hate death. We try to make death as distant and clinical a reality as possible. We’ve arranged things so that people die surrounded by professionals and technology. We paint the dead up to look bright and cheery. We try to get people to move on in their grief as quickly as possible so that they don’t creep us out.

And all of this is, I think, to our detriment. Thinking about our death is an important spiritual practice.  Psalms 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” Numbering our days. That’s thinking about our mortality. We only get so many days. So many moment.

When you notice that you have a limited amount of something, you start to value it more. You start to think about how you will spend it. Maybe you shift your priorities.

That’s what happened for me, leaning against that fence. I was reminded in a viceral way that I’m headed toward that same destination, beneath the freshly turned earth under the puzzle-pieces of sod. I have only a certain number of moments left before that happens.

My family will stand around the grave for a few minutes. They’ll cry—I hope. And then they’ll head off for a meal at a brewpub down the street and their lives will move on.

That’s not bad. It’s the way life works. But it does mean that the way I choose to live the moments I have left matters. These moments are worth more than gold.

So how will we spend them?

3 thoughts on “Thinking about death? Your should be. Here’s why.

  1. Lillian left this comment over on the Facebook page. It’s really a great example of what this post is about. (And a great example of the good stuff that goes on over on the Facebook page.)

    Marc,
    I hadn’t really realized it before, but it was exactly this experience of thinking about death, that helped to shift my trajectory.

    Back in February 2009, just a couple of months after my youngest daughter was born, I got a phone call from the adult foster care home my grandmother had been living in for the previous ten years. My grandmother had passed away.

    I had feelings of guilt because I’d seldom visited her. My reasons for not visiting her had a lot to do with the crazy, chaotic life, I lived from crisis to crisis. It also had some to do with the discomfort, unease, and uncertainty about how to be there and relate to someone who has little to no memory of you in their lives. I wish I’d had our mutual friend’s example to learn from and emulate back then. However, ultimately, the reasons why I didn’t visit her and why I think few of the other blood relatives in the area visited her, had to do with the fact that no one had ever actually learned how to love or be loved by her. We all had the culturally obligatory sense of “love” for a family member. That kind of false love that is really lip service and obligation. The bitterness, resentment, and suspicion that she lived with most of my life had poisoned and twisted all of our love.

    I took my teenage daughter to say goodbye before they called to have my grandmother’s body removed. She grieved in a way I couldn’t. She had good and happy memories of a grandmother who was loving and kind. I grieved for her grief. I grieved for the fact that this woman had been on earth nearly 75 years and the people who cared most about her and her passing were the people who’d been paid to care for her in her years of decline.

    That’s when I truly understood the legacy she’d passed on and that I was on the same path. I knew that if I didn’t figure out how to heal, grow, and change, that I would be the one who would die surrounded by no one but strangers who were paid to care. I knew that I had to learn to love my life and the people in it in such a way that they knew they mattered enough to me that my passing would be a time of them remembering the love I had for them instead of them experiencing another moment of numbing the pain from having had me in their lives to begin with.

    Facing my grandmother’s death, made me want to truly live.

    (Comment source: https://www.facebook.com/MarcAlanSchelske/posts/653284031393073?stream_ref=5)

  2. I feel like we’ve dedicated a large portion of daily effort in our society to avoid this subject as much as we possibly can. Death in entertainment is so casual, and quickly padded so that we won’t feel TOO bad (or not bad at all). It’s certainly a tricky topic, because there is a thin line between seeing the beauty of mortal endings and finding futility in life, since it all ends. It’s a bit dangerous, really.

    Yet in spite of that danger, it IS something we should think about, you’re right. Not fret over, or allow to control us, but really give deep thought into in the hopes of finding the great truths that it teaches us while we’re here.

    And when we get free of the fear and pain that comes with it, boy does it become easier to celebrate life, and really LIVE.

    1. Hey JK. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      So much in our society is structured around helping us avoid being confronted by death. It was a considerable moment for me when I had the profound realization that I only have so many mornings left. Very likely, less remain to me than I’ve already lived. That realization altered the way I spend my time. I decided pretty quickly that I was going to not give those days up lightly.

      No fear, as you say. Just perspective.

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