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“So teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

As pumpkins, jack-o’lanterns, and skeletons come out, the spooky vibes of Halloween fill the streets. Autumn fills the air with the excitement of pumpkin spice, treats, and costumes. However, rather than a fun holiday for kids to collect candy, All Hallows Day and All Saints Day are days in which the Church reflects on the souls who have come before us. Reflecting on those who are deceased also causes us to reflect on our own mortality. The term, “Memento mori, or remember your death,” is the Latin phrase long associated with the practice of remembering the unpredictable and inevitable end of one’s life.”

Why reflect on your death?

Reflecting on death seems like such a morbid thing. Death can be seen as something fear-inducing and most people do not enjoy pondering their fears. However, the rule of St. Benedict urged his monks  to “keep death daily” before their eyes (Rule, 4.47). This awareness of death keeps a few things present. 

  1. An awareness of the need for God, or “a prudent recognition that we are not perfect and we are in need of divine mercy and forgiveness.” 
  2. Life is fragile and a gift. With this awareness, we can focus more on the present moment and making meaning out of our lives.

Coming to terms with death

Elizabeth Kubbler Ross is a popular author who coined the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These stages were meant for people suffering with a terminal illness. However, these stages are experienced by people both with and without illnesses when trying to make sense of the inevitability of death. For example,

  1. Denial: People who are unable to reflect on their mortality are in the denial stage. Not thinking about death keeps the person from confronting their feelings about death.
  2. Anger: There can be a feeling of injustice when bad things happen. Anger can creep in when it seems that someone dies suddenly or a good person suffers. Anger allows us to point blame at something or someone to avoid confronting the fact that death and loss are inevitable.
  3. Bargaining: This can be seen through prayer and asking God to spare us from this illness or that tragedy. We often find ourselves worried about things that we may not experience, and if we do, that we do not yet have the heavenly grace to handle.
  4. Depression: Depression can set in when we feel hopeless in the face of death. If we are going to die, then why try? 
  5. Acceptance: When we are in a place of acceptance, we can begin to engage the question of what do I do with my life knowing that it is finite?

David Kessler adds- making meaning- as the sixth stage of grief, and addition is a natural next step that highlights the importance of Memento Mori. If we know we will die, how do we want to make our days count?

Making meaning in life

Making meaning in life is just as unique and specific as the person pondering the question. We make meaning by using our God given gifts and talents and living out our vocation. As we reflect on the finality of life, we can grow in appreciation for the little moments of every day: a hug from a friend, grandparent, or child; the smell of a fragrant candle or flower; a moment of deep conversion; etc. As we engage with the little moments, we will extract more beauty and joy from our everyday lives. Being aware of death allows us to love deeper, be more attentive to our loved ones, and take moments to give back. Making meaning in our life makes death not as scary because we can look back and say I have done what I was made to do! 

How do you want to live your life? What will you do to make your mark on this earth? No matter where you have been it is never too late to Memento Mori, and start living with intention!