Outing Death

Traveling this past month, I had no expectations, only intentions.  My eyes were set on the adventures, experiences, tastes and sounds that were about to come.  As I felt the vibrancy of life come alive in me, I was quickly humbled and grounded by the preciousness and heartbreak of death.

Death is something American society tends to shy away from. It is a scary word. Reading it on a piece of paper or hearing it on the news makes the body cringe and the head shake ‘no’ so it doesn’t have to register the emotions.  When a loved one dies, the typical response is to quickly swallow our feelings, potentially cry in privacy and then move on with life. However, what this response does is bury emotions within the body. We store words we wish we said, the different choices we would have made. The should haves and would haves linger in our bones. I was inspired by a talk I heard Candy Chang give at a conference where she spoke about death as a tool to ground, reflect and center herself on what choices and actions she wants to take in life. The notion of life and death inspired a global art project where chalk walls popped up all over the world to visually and physical present people with a space to pause and answer the philosophical question: “Before I die I want to _____”

This past month, two of the most warmest and kindest human beings left this earth in unexpected and heartbreaking ways. Doug Walker and Adam London. Doug was pioneer in the Seattle tech world, a philanthropist, a father, husband and he had the most passion for the outdoors and adventure I have ever seen. I taught Doug individual Pilates lessons for the last 6 months and loved getting to know his passion and enthusiasm for life. His southern accent and charm was a delight. During our sessions, he would always ask me what hike or outdoor activity I did over the weekend. I never wanted to disappoint, but I sometimes felt bashful, telling him we didn’t do anything. Doug lost his life to a tragic avalanche accident while snowshoeing on New Years Eve. Doug was 64 years old with the energy of a 25 year old.  

Adam was one of the most dapper, mature, respectful, supportive, and loving 20 something year olds I have ever known. Adam and I were friendly in college but grew closer after school when we connected about our passion for travel, writing and building businesses and communities. A smile always struck my face when I saw Adam ‘like’ one of my social media posts because he was such a natural cheerleader and supporter to all.  I knew the genuine love he expressed in this small act.  Adam lost his life at the age of 27 years old one morning while on a business trip.  He simply never woke up. 

To know the ages of both of these men are important because it demonstrates life and death can come and go at any time and any place. These deaths are heart-wrenching yet beautiful and real reminders of how precious life is. You can be breathing and vibrant one moment yet lose it all in the blink of an eye.

So let’s talk about death. Let’s ‘out’ death.  Let’s not hide and bury our emotions. Let’s feel them, experience them and share them together. Let these experiences of death and mourning wake us up to live a little deeper and truer. Ask yourself: “Before I die I want to _____.” How do you want to live in this very moment? What is your truth you want to express? How do you want to feel? What passions do you want to ignite? Life is too short and precious to say, “tomorrow I will…” or “one day I will….” The time to learn and live your true self is now. This awakening isn’t necessarily meant to spark impulsive behavior of “Fuck it, I am quitting my job and moving to Bali.” But instead, it’s meant to spark more mindful behaviors—to wake up and realize it’s a gift to be living and breathing. With each breath, I soak in and absorb the experience and ask myself is this the choice I want to make … versus: is this a choice I should be making. When we can truly practice being present and living this one moment, we get to be fully living.

About 10 years ago, I have a memory of my mom and sister poking fun of me and playfully asking: “Why do you say ‘I love you’ after signing off from every phone call? Even if it is a quick call to say ‘Hey, I am downstairs’?” I remember responding: “Because you never know when the last time you might speak to someone will be.” Every moment is a chance to truly express yourself. I lost my mother over 5 years ago and the pain still burns every day. Death itself is not what is horrible, but it is the essence of forever, which is the most painful and scary reality for me to face. Saying goodbye to the pulse of my mom’s heartbeat, the smell of her skin, the rhythm of her raspy voice, and the touch of her sweet soft kisses is what’s hardest to let go. To know I will never get to physically be near her again burns. Yet, remembering and honoring this palpable pain and heartache is the fuel that keeps me living and breathing. It pushes me to only live truer, more authentic, more present, more loving, more fully so I can honor those that no longer physically live.

If you have lost a loved one, I want to welcome you to feel your pain. Take conscious time to explore your emotions. Journal it out, talk to a friend, create some art, share your experiences and ‘out’ death. Make death not such a scary thing but a beautiful way you get to live your life more fully and honor those who can no longer breathe for themselves.