Every year we celebrate our birthday, as we should, but every year we also pass through another equally significant date: our Death Date.
Of course, there is no telling when the Grim Reaper may come for us – it could be tomorrow or in ten/twenty/thirty years’ time – unless you happen to be William Shakespeare, who was born and died on the same day, 23rd April, which also happens to be, perfectly, St George’s Day, and thus the Swan of Avon even rhymed even in death (although actually the dates are approximate too, and could be within a 2-3 days window as records were far from reliable back then). Unless you have a terminal diagnosis, or an extremely hazardous lifestyle or profession, your DD hopefully won’t be for quite some time yet … although going by recent geopolitics and the terminal diagnosis for our one and only biosphere and all life as we know it spelled out by the IPCC reports it could be a lot sooner for all of us.
Even with all of that in mind, I am not feeling morbid or doomist. I have just moved house and I am enjoying starting my new life in my new hometown, feeling hopeful while aware of all of it (the paradox of this, especially in the Springtime, I’ve articulated elsewhere). I suspect what has prompted these speculations have been a couple of things: my late parents’ anniversary, who both died suddenly and traumatically; and a dear friend diagnosed with cancer who is deciding whether to undertake chemotherapy or to enjoy what quality of life he has left until it claims him. So, these factors have prompted me to engage with ‘death consciousness’, as it has been called. Now, I am aware that certain religious traditions (e.g., Buddhism) and initiatives (e.g., Death Cafes) fully engage with this too, but this is my approach:
- Decide on a Death Date – this could be picked at random using an online random date generator, or extrapolated on by one’s physical health, presence of diseases within one’s family, average age of deceased relatives, etc.
- Create a countdown clock – again these can be found online; download an app to your phone.
- Plan your life accordingly – what quality of life do you wish to enjoy? If you wish to stay healthy and fit, then think about your diet, exercise, and habits. What are the most important things in your life? Family? Work? Hobbies? Friends? Travel? If you wish to write that masterpiece or go on that dream trip – start planning it now. As well as these mid to long term ‘goals’, think about your daily routine…
- Consider your core values. What is the fundamental most important thing in your universe: Spirit? Family? Creativity? Place that at the core of what you do and plan your life around that. Perhaps it is a Venn diagram of 2 or 3 things – that’s okay, but you’ll need to be clever at planning and prioritising. Ensure each gets the energy they deserve.
- Plan your perfect day, and use that as the template as to how to live your life – but be prepared to modify that according to circumstances, your wellbeing, etc. You will have to consider others or changing circumstances. Don’t be set in stone. The key principle here is to be fully conscious, to live with intentionality and mindfulness, not to become a creature of petrified habits. Be spontaneous. Seize the day whenever it takes your fancy. If it looks like it’s going to be a gorgeous sunny day, go for a walk with a friend, suggest a picnic, or head to the beach.
- Live each day fully, savouring every moment, knowing that will be the last time you will experience that unique day on this Earth at this precise stage of your life. Tomorrow, you will be a day older and a day closer to your death date… will that late night binge or lie-in be worth it? Can you afford to waste another sunrise or sunset?
- Count the days off, but be fully present. Cut whatever is extraneous – knowing that any time and energy you are investing in it, you will never get back. Learn to say ‘no’ to that which does not serve your god/s – your core values. And to say ‘yes’ to that which nourishes, enriches, challenges, and develops you.
- Put your affairs in order, as they say: set a will, a letter of wishes, and funeral plans and leave them somewhere your people can find it. Don’t leave a mess for folk to sort out. Think about getting on the donor register and making charitable bequests.
- Keep a reflective journal, diary, or blog about the process. Document it if you wish.
- Talk to others willing to embrace the concept, and gently broach to those who aren’t. Start sensitive, honest, non-judgemental conversations around death. What do people believe? Ask them to share their perspectives about life after death, and life before death. What really matters right now knowing you only have a finite number of days left on Planet Earth, beyond which you will cease to exist (at least, that is what I believe, and I am okay with that)? Of course, nobody really knows what happens to us when we die, despite what many have claimed. We won’t know until it’s ‘too late’, so act now according to the inevitably existential reality of your death. Make friends with it. It awaits, so don’t be a stranger when you finally meet.
- Every year celebrate your Death Date – your own personal Día de los Muertos. Put on the skull makeup, decorate your house with skeletons, and party!
If you decide to engage with this concept, let me know. It’ll be good to start that conversation. Whatever you choose, I wish you a fulfilling life and a beautiful death.
Kevan Manwaring, 29th March 2022