You’re out for a walk in the city, meandering along and minding your own business. Catching you entirely off guard, a stranger approaches and asks casually: “Hey, wanna talk about death?”
What would you be thinking at that moment?
I think some of the first thoughts running through my own head would be, “Should I call 911?”… “This person is completely bonkers,” or, “Factoring in the number of street enchiladas I just ate, how fast would I be able to run up the next block?”
Or picture this: It’s Thanksgiving dinner at your aunt’s house, and Cousin Jack clears his throat as he gets up from his chair. “We all know that Grandpa is getting old,” he begins. “It’s time we start reflecting on the value of the life he’s lived and plan for the inevitable scenario of his death.”
NO! Who does that?? I don’t know anyone who is comfortable enough to talk like this quite so openly as Cousin Jack and our stranger in the city have been.
That’s just it—socially, and to each of us personally, the topic of death can be very awkward and uncomfortable. It’s not something you bring up at dinner parties. It’s not something we pepper into casual conversation… unless it’s for comedic effect. And it’s not often something that is easy to talk about. Yet it’s something that needs to be discussed.
When’s the last time you had a conversation about death with someone?
I remember when it was for me.
I was out to lunch a few weeks ago with a very good friend of mine. My friend loves the thrill of an adrenaline rush. It’s a dream of hers to own a motorcycle someday. “You know,” she said to me between casual bites of cheese from the cheese board we shared, “I’ve thought to myself, ‘If I was riding my own motorcycle, there’s always a possibility that I could die on it.’ And I’ve had to learn to come to terms with that.”
While my friend seemed mostly at ease discussing the thought of her death, I was sitting in my seat across her at the restaurant, bones limp, mouth agape… I was a basket case at that moment. Fear gripped my heart. I didn’t want to lose her—not to a motorcycle accident, not to anything.
Yet it was my fear I had to grapple with in order to see clearly. I had to wrestle with the extremely uncomfortable and horrible thought of my very close friend dying.
It wasn’t until I was reading Kendall Keeler’s book, Your Last 24, later that week, that I received a very tangible kind of clarity in the grappling process. There’s something significant about reading a book or listening to advice that opens up my mind, allowing me to get outside of my own head and focus on a new perspective. When I finished the first chapter, I realized that I needed to accept the twin realities that death happens to absolutely everyone—including myself—and that the circumstances of every person’s death are unpredictable. And I realized that acceptance is key—it takes courage to acknowledge death.
Oftentimes, we prefer to cower from death. Many of us prefer to ignore it and pretend that all there is to life is living. We prefer to pursue things like success and money and happiness, constantly chasing after what we want most out of life. That’s why the acknowledgment of death is so powerful. It causes us to face our fears. As Kendall Keeler and Nancy Engel discussed in their podcast A Life That Lasts, death can be likened to a coach. Death is confrontational. Death says, “What are you doing with your life?” and, “Is this really what you want to do with it?”
So: What are you doing with your life? And is this really what you want to do with it?
Have you ever taken a good, hard, long look at death, and grappled with the reality of it? If not, Your Last 24 is the best book on death and dying that I can recommend. Or are you choosing to run the other way, to run after the things in life that you think will make you happy, and to keep running until the time is up?
On a lazy Saturday evening, an old game show re-run caught my eye on the TV. Based on the baggy turtlenecks, oversized glasses, and creative facial hair designs people wore, it seemed like the show was produced in the 2000s or the ’90s. Contestants, a host, and an audience were situated on a set arranged like supermarket aisles. The contestants were told that they had about a minute to run around the set, racing each other, and to grab as many specific groceries off the shelves as they could to win points for their team. Energetic music played as contestants bounded off into the aisles, flinging paper towel rolls and dozens of packages of chicken into their shopping carts. And then—time was up. The whole race had gone by so fast, and now the only thing left to do was count up their winnings in points.
In real life, there are no “points” awarded for gathering the most stuff after death—or the most success, or the highest-paying career, or the best of anything. We live our lives collecting and consuming… and then time’s up. We don’t take our stuff with us to death. We don’t even have the power to take other people, like our friends and family, with us to where we’re going after death. So here’s my question to you: Are you treating life like a supermarket game show—running around like crazy, collecting and consuming until the time is up?
If this all sounds very morbid, I assure you it’s not meant to be. I don’t believe that life or pursuing things that bring happiness is altogether a complete waste of time. Rather, as a Christian, I have a greater hope than believing that death is the end. My journey to faith in God has led me to believe that knowing the purpose of death is essential to understanding life.
As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
If you’re interested in hearing more about the topic of death from a Christian perspective, check out Kendall R. Keeler’s book, Your Last 24, or his podcast, for an expansion on this topic.