A few years ago, I made friends with the Grim Reaper. It was unavoidable. I felt like he was following me around. I even considered getting in the carpool lane with him as my passenger. I am still here, so you know he was not coming for me. But he did pick up my father, and then two years later, he returned for my mother and husband. And after these and some other visits, I learned that Grim, his friends call him Grim, is not a bad guy. He has a job, and he does it well. Grim takes pride in escorting us from this world. He means us no harm. And wishes that more people would befriend him. Since some of you are scared to death of him, a phrase that he finds mildly amusing, he has asked me to speak to you on his behalf. Here are nine things he would like you to know about death.
- Death is inescapable. Grim thinks that this should be painfully obvious. And yet, he meets so many people who are surprised that they have died. And he observes that some of their friends and family members are equally shocked. All living creatures are going to die.
- Death is capricious. There are times when Grim receives a call to escort someone, and it is not a surprise. The person who has been terminally ill for over a year, the grandmother who just celebrated her 100th birthday. These are not a surprise. But there is also the newborn baby or the new father who stepped into the wrong intersection. Eons ago, these deaths were hard for Grim too. But now, he has come to understand that we do not always know when or how. There will be death, and beyond knowing that all living creatures die, it may defy logic or your sense of fairness. Stop expecting logic and fairness. Death is capricious.
- Death is normal. Grim did not have much to say here other than to point out that breathing is a normal bodily function, and it is also normal to stop breathing eventually.
- Death is an integral part of life. Humans have many different milestones. And most of them are recognized and celebrated. In most cultures, we help children prepare to become adults, and we help adults develop to raise children. Sometimes, we help prepare one another to become elderly. But too often, we leave out the discussion and preparation for death. Which is why so many people are surprised by death.
- Death is like a snowflake. No two are exactly alike. Grim wants you to understand that every death is precious and unique. There is so much that we do not see. Most of the time, we see the exterior result; a heart stops beating, the breath becomes still. But every person has a unique final moment. Your ability to help someone experience peace during his or her last moment is invaluable.
- Life is precious, and so is death. Those who live with an acceptance of death die with fewer regrets. Grim believes this is because if we pay attention, death teaches us to stop wasting time.
- Death is not malevolent. What Grim wants you to know here, is that he understands that you are afraid of him. And that you don’t like that you and your loved ones will die. But he is not out there stalking you. He wishes you no harm. He loves MOST living creatures and considers it an honor to be your escort.
- There is more than one way to celebrate a life. Sometimes, after Grim escorts your loved one away, he returns and checks on you. He cannot speak to you or do anything for you. But sometimes he wants to reconnect. And when he does, he hates to see you and your family arguing over prayers, songs, and memorial services. Just be flexible and celebrate your loved one in the best way possible.
- Everyone grieves differently. In his return visits to check on family and friends, Grim has seen drinking, drugging, loving, crying, praying, laughing, and so much more. His advice? Don’t harm yourself or others. Be patient and practice self-compassion. Even those who prepare for death will experience grief.
There it is. From Grim to me to you. Nine things he wishes you knew about death. Because he wants you to live a happy life!