Making Friends with Death 1

Talking about death might mean what we call end-of-life issues. I might talk about what to expect in that final phase, what to do, how to be with others who are going through that, what dying well means, and the prospect for growth at the end of life. There are some very helpful things to understand about that, but it's not what I’m going to talk about today. Some other time on that one. Making friends with death in that end-of-life phase is wonderful. I’m talking about making friends with death right now. I’m talking about living well.

So let me tell about what happened to me. It’s my perspective. I offer it to you – make of it what you will.

It was eight and a half years ago, and it was, in fact, my 47th birthday. Now before I go any further, let me assure you that no drugs were involved. No alcohol, no prescription medication, no over the counter medications, nothing. Maybe a cup of coffee, but no more than I usually drank.

Forty-seven is not a particularly auspicious birthday. It’s not a decennial, it’s not a round number of any kind. It’s, like, just this random birthday. Still, ever since I reached adulthood, when these markers of another year of life gone by come around, I have taken some time to reflect, to take stock, to review the time passed, and what might be left. This particular day I was far from home and in Midland, Texas. My thoughts were not particularly dark or depressed. I was sitting in the minister’s office of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Midland on a Thursday mid-morning running over the inventory of 47 years gone by:

I spent a lot of years going to school, getting degrees. Had a couple kids. Had some years as a philosophy professor. Divorced, remarried. I’d started practicing Zen almost 5 years before. Was coming to the end of my second year as a Unitarian Universalist minister. What did any of that, or all of it, mean? Soon my life would all be over. What did that mean?

Right about then, I don’t know why, something inside me clicked. Something let go, and I had the sensation of a weight falling off me. “I’m going to die,” in that moment felt like such good news. What a relief that I won’t live forever! I’m not responsible for eternity. I don’t have to get it figured out. No matter how hard I might try, I can’t succeed at immortality.

Life is just a little ffft. I might live another day, I might live another 47 years and reach age 94. It doesn’t matter -- it really doesn’t. It’s still a little ffft.

My parents used to say, “No time soon, we hope,” whenever the topic of the inevitability of death came up. Now, I’ll grant you that if your spouse has been putting off going to the doctor, and you mention this, and he shrugs and says we’re all going to die, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Honey, let’s not let that be any time soon.” Sure. Why not take reasonable precautions? Take reasonable precautions and at the same time, there’s an entirely other awareness that can be present, even in the midst of taking reasonable precautions. That’s the awareness that hit me on my 47th birthday. It was suddenly so clear to me that “no time soon, we hope,” was utterly beside the point.

Whether life lasts a minute more or 50 years more, it’s still a little ffft. So relax.

There’s nothing I can do about this – thank god, or else I’d have to deal with the temptation to do it. There’s no way out. As I looked around the room, the objects around me had a sharpness they hadn’t had before, a kind of poignant yet majestic quality. All of them were as temporary as I was, and they seemed so beautifully self-sufficient being just what they were just at that moment.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Making Friends with Death"
Next: Part 2


  1. Meredith, thanks for this. I just celebrated my 47th birthday this week and befriending death is a central part of my spiritual practice.

    1. Happy birthday, Karen. I raise a toast to our mutual friend.