Embracing Death as a Sacred Companion

This past week I have been privileged to be immersed in the creation of a glorious memorial service for a dear friend of mine who passed away a couple of weeks ago. The sacred gathering honoring her unique life journey was yesterday, and it was sublime. There are clearly no words to express how touching it is to be immersed in the process of honoring a soul and a life well-lived.

Like the photograph above, I am aware of how the radiance of who we are and our actions throughout our lifetime flow outward like circles touching others in such profound and enduring ways. Over and over during the service yesterday, people shared about so many small, ordinary moments in which our beloved friend had touched and enhanced their lives. It was palpably clear to all of us present that, although we can no longer see and touch her physically, we will always carry and be moved by her loving presence and the treasured memories we were blessed to share with her.

“Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body,

answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.”

–Kahlil Gibran

Throughout my life, I have been powerfully drawn to the arena of death — in conversations, in readings, in movies, and in my own reflections about life. At the same time, I’ve been cautious about sharing these experiences and perspectives, as most people can be so uncomfortable with this aspect of reality.

Somehow, I have always carried a knowing that my life was incredibly precious — and yet it could suddenly be over at any time. When I was 18 years old my father, who I adored and was closer to than anyone in my life, was told by doctors that a cancer was quickly spreading throughout his body and that he had 6 months to live. I, of course, immediately quit school and work to be with him until he died — and then he surprised us all by going on to live for 19 most adventurous, gratitude-filled years. So my family and I lived right next door to the reality that he might be taken away from us at any time. And then, right after he died, I had an experience of him visiting me inwardly. He stood in front of me, looked right into my eyes, and as he placed his right hand gently on my heart he told me to cherish each and every day of my life. My father, and this experience of visitation, made a powerful mark on me, and ever since I’ve lived my life with an eye towards embracing death as my sacred companion.

Whenever I make love with Susan, or hold the boys and smell their hair, or say goodbye to a dear friend, I often find myself thinking that this could be the last time I am with them. In a similar way, whenever I connect with an inner calling to risk moving forward in a new direction in my life, it helps me get a hold of my courage if I have an imaginary dialogue with myself near the end of my life. This elder inside, who is committed to looking back at our life with as few regrets as possible, always offers me a higher perspective and wise counsel in support of me making the courageous choice. We each can turn to the wise elder inside of us whenever we choose — who knows all too well that we have a precious window of opportunity to live wholeheartedly prior to our passing from this earth.

This has been one of my favorite quotes for years, for it inspires me to remember to live life more fully:

“Good morning, Lord, what a great day to die.”

~ Chief Crazy Horse

Here is a poem from a beloved soul who has swam the rivers of human loss in profound ways and captured her experience for all of us to partake of her wisdom. To me, it captures the power of embracing the gift of our mortality — for how it influences our life now:


by Mary Oliver

When death comes

like a hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all

the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of

curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like,

that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower,

as common as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, towards silence,

and each body a lion of courage,

and something precious to the earth.

When its over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom,

taking the world into my arms.

When its over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life

something particular, and real.

As a wise friend once shared with me, the reality is that we are the ancestors of our future. I’ve always found that looking at life through the lens of our eventual passing brings powerful gifts of poignancy and perspective — that tender recognition of the preciousness of ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.

With blessings of gratitude and aliveness your way, Gavin

Your Comments

  1. March 30, 2009

    Dear Gavin,

    Very powerful post. It certainly was a tremendous reminder for me.
    From a young age, I, too, have had an interest in death and have never shyed away from speaking of it nor exploring it. John Lennon said that “all of life is a preparation for death” and that impressed me at a young age and I am always mindful that we are here for a short precious time.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us!!

    Many Blessings,

  2. Gavin Frye says:

    March 30, 2009

    Dear Dorothy, I appreciate you passing along your experience — and the quote from John Lennon. I hadn’t heard it before, but knowing John and how he lived his life, I’m not surprised he had a conscious relationship with death. Blessings to your living, and may all of us be celebrated for a life well-lived upon the completion of our physical journey. With much Love, Gavin

  3. Thank you, I have been reading your blog and just wanted to say “bless you.”