Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love Your Death

“Hokahey! Today is a good day to die!” Crazy Horse exhorted his warriors with this cry as they went into battle. (Hokahey means something like “Let’s do it!” or “Let’s roll!”) Were they suicidal? I don’t think so.

The Tao Te Ching says, “He who knows how to live can walk abroad without fear ... because he has no place for death to enter.” I don’t think the Sioux warriors were seeking death. But they were not afraid of it, either. By living without fear of death, they lived fully. Sure, they died. We all do. But they didn’t die in advance, if you know what I mean. Death had no place to enter into their time of living.

Several years ago my word for the year was Prepare. The word came to me as I was going through my usual New Year’s Eve ritual at my cabin. It was getting close to midnight and I still didn’t have a word. As I was listening to the sound of the creek outside, I heard the word Death. Hmm, that was not a very happy word, and besides, my word is always a verb. Moments later I heard Prepare. Well, okay, that was a verb, but not exactly what I was hoping for. How about Enjoy, Relax, or Nap? But I knew with an inner recognition that Prepare was my word. As ominous as is sounds, I didn’t get the sense that this was any sort of premonition or threat. It seemed more like loving advice. Not a death knell, but rather a wake up call.

In her last months, as my mom was dying of cancer, we had some wonderful conversations. I asked her questions about her life, like what were her happiest memories, what was she most proud of, what did she regret. Her answers were not the answers I would have predicted, so I discovered things about her that I treasure still. I asked her how she felt about dying and she responded that she was curious. Curious. Like the French philosopher Rabelais, who reportedly said on his deathbed, “Je vais chercher un grand peut-etre.” I go to seek a great perhaps.

Mom was not afraid to die. She was like the monk who stood calmly before the sword brandishing samurai warrior. The warrior bellowed, “I can run you through without blinking an eye.” When the monk replied quietly, “And I can be run through without blinking an eye,” the samurai dropped his sword and fell at the feet of the monk, acknowledging his superior power. Mom’s ease put me at ease, with death and with her death.

I was sitting by the creek during the summer of the year when my word was Prepare. Everything was lush and green. The birds were chirping. Everywhere was life abundant. As the sun’s warm rays sparkled on the dancing water, I heard the message “Love your death.” And I understood. Preparing for and loving my death release me from fear. I am free to love my life, to rejoice in the precious gift of each moment.

Every day is a good day to die. Hokahey.

[Today's post is revised from the archives because I've been in the present moment with my newest grandchild, a baby girl born on Saturday. Two grandchildren in five weeks!]


  1. Lovely post as ever Galen, hard to read as so much reminded me of my own Mom's last days, and being in the hospital with her everyday, every last second I could grab. But I must remark on those other words through my tears, a wake up call! Oh yes those words wake up and call, we often do not like to hear them or know that they have arrived for every reason necessary, but it's answering those wake up calls and almost always YES! Something good and great always, always does come from each wake up call we get.....thanks so much for calling!

  2. Death is a small but last truth of ones life... :)

    Visit my blog--> Stay Blessed

  3. Beautiful and important points, Galen. Since we can't know the time or circumstances of our death, in most cases, the only sane way to face it is to spend each day as if it were your last, fully and with a wide-open throttle. There is no do-over once you find out yesterday was your last day.

  4. Galen,

    I've reflect on death and impermanence quite a bit, but your writing in this article gave it a new shine. I am grateful for that. What stood out for me in particular was this insight:

    "But they didn’t die in advance, if you know what I mean. Death had no place to enter into their time of living."

    I also felt comforted by the story of your mother's dying process and the confidence she felt in the face of death.

    OK, I'm still not ready to rush into a life-threatening battle screaming “Hokahey!" But the true is that everyday is life threatening. We never know for certain when death will visit us.

  5. Karen--I love the way you picked up on the wake up call idea. And I'm glad you have some good memories of your last days with her. Thanks for your comment.

    Asma--Thanks for stopping by and I will certainly visit your blog.

    Bob--Wide open throttle! Great image! Thanks for commenting.

    Sandra--Yeah, I'll be running the opposite way from battle right along with you! But we could still be yelling Hokahey! Thanks for commenting.

  6. I love your habit of picking a word for the year. That is one I must remember. Death is a tough one....right now I am thinking of you holding your newborn grandchild....the other end of the spectrum. But it is all life. I was with my dad when he died, and although I know he would have been comfortable with the "way it went" because it was he was...I wish I had known more then. I think of that from time to time...but most importantly I was with him along with my mom and aunt. Just an ordinary afternoon of conversation and being together...minus handholding and last goodbyes. I think he liked it that way. What a wonderful, tender, loving spirit he possessed....uh, possesses. Congrats Grandma! I honor you for staying in this holy moment. Another Sandra

  7. Horray for your baby granddaughter. That time seemed to go fast, although I'm sure it didn't for your daughter. Ha You have one more to go, don't you" It's nice to have an older post ready in time of need. And PREPARE is a great word for the new year. Love to you and the new baby and Mother.

  8. Wonderful advice, as always! I love that you find a word for each year. And congratulations on your new granddaughter!

  9. Congrats on the arrival of your Grandie! How fun and how time consuming.

    I am working on letting go in many aspects of my living the past few years. Death is not what I fear. I was born with Cancer and I periodically need to make peace with death again, but most of my life I am already there.

    What I am attempting to lay down is my grasping for life and experiences or maybe I should call it my huge desire to make every moment count.
    I find it extremely difficult to not measure each moment and to attempt to achieve being

    Nice to read these words today Thank you

  10. Congratulations on the arrival of your second grandchild being born. Two in five weeks is amazing!

    If you have a chance check out my post from this week called I Am A Child Of God. As a new grandma I think you would appreciate it.

    I appreciate your thoughts on dying. This post is very beautiful and thought provoking.

  11. Sandra (another one!)--Thank you for sharing some of your story about your dad's death. I do like my word of the year practice. This year's word is Yield. Goodness knows I have had plenty of opportunity to practice that this year! Thanks for commenting.

    Manzanita--This was actually Baby #2. Baby #1 was born six weeks ago. Hard to keep up! But I'm glad both babies are now here safely. I can relax and have some fun with them. Thanks for your comment.

    Kara--Thanks! She's a cutie, and bigger than her cousin who is just 5 weeks older. Thanks for commenting.

    Patricia--I think making every moment count is the way we appreciate the preciousness over every day. As Pema Chodron says, we should practice "like our hair is on fire!" Ha! I love that image. Thanks for your comment.

    Ellen Marie--I know, it is pretty amazing. Much more exciting now than the five week span at the beginning of this year when each girl told me she was pregnant! I will go check your post right now. Thanks for alerting me to it.

  12. Congratulations on your two new grandchildren; what a blessing. Enjoy every moments with those sweet ones. Grandchildren are the best. Loved reading your post today and was enlightened by your thoughts.
    My mother lived with me for the last 4 months of her life. We had some awesome conversations. She had kept a journal and so we added more thoughts for it and I was able to complete her history and my fathers before she died.I read it all to her. It was a very sweet experience for me.
    Blessings to you for a very endearing post!

  13. LeAnn--Thank you for sharing your memories about your mother's last days. The journal project you completed with her and read to her sounds like a real treasure. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Hi Galen, when Optimus Prime says "Autobots transform and roll out," he is actually saying "Autobots transform and hokahey." I learn something new everyday. :)

    The various treatise on the Art of War says that if a soldier embraces death, he is likelier to return alive. If he focuses on living he is likelier to die. I think it is a matter of giving it your all, but doing so in a prudent manner.

    Your mom sounds really wise. It is great to know someone who has made their peace with death. They are an inspiration and a source of wisdom.

    Congratulations on your newest grandchild!! :D What is her name?

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! Today is a good day to live, knowing there is new life on Earth! :D

    Irving the Vizier

  15. This was a good and useful meditation on conquering fear, since it's not so much death itself we fear, but what will happen in the process of dying, and the unknown circumstances that come after.

    I try to think of death as nothing more than a door, which is locked at the moment, but which will be opened for me at some point to reveal an exciting mystery on the other side of it. My curiosity helps me to try and be ready. It could open any time.

  16. Irving--I don't know what Optimus Prime is, but that was funny! My newest grandchild, a baby girl named Ava, joins her baby boy cousin Jaden, born five weeks earlier. Thanks for your nice words.

    Mikey--An exciting mystery on the other side. I think my mom thought of it like that. So did my friend Greg who died last year. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Galen, 6 weeks ago??? I'm always a day late and well, you know. What I was trying to say, it seemed like just a few days ago that you wrote posts on the babies coming. It goes really fast when "you" aren't the one carrying them. Forgive me and congratulations on both babies. Like getting twins, for Grandma, isn't it.

  18. Manzanita--I know! Me, too! I can barely keep up myself. No forgiveness necessary.

  19. Congratulations! On the new life. Thank you for sharing this lesson.

  20. You seem like a neat person who is looking at things instead of just going through the motions. I do think that people tend to put other cultures up on a pedestal, like the native Americans. I'll bet some of those guys were still scared. But I like where you are going and I am going to take your advice.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I hope you will visit again. I appreciate your kind words.


Your comment is valuable and valued. Comment moderation is enabled to block spam, so please excuse the brief delay until your comment appears on the blog.