What will you say when I die?

I found this a few months ago while driving around my hometown.  It seemed appropriate.

I found this a few months ago while driving around my hometown. It seemed appropriate.

I watched the subtle rise and fall of my chest yesterday and wondered:

What if it stopped? What if my heart stopped right now?

It was a horrendous thought. Horrendous because I’ve chosen to spend my days thinking about how to fill them, not how they will someday end. Recently though, I’ve thought a lot about death. Not in a morbidly obsessive way, but rather in a matter-of-fact-this-is-going-to-happen way. Because it will. Sooner or later it will.

I’d like to believe that I will grow old. That I will wear sweater sets, use a cane and take heart in singing to plants and playing games of Scrabble. That I will take my last breaths in the comfort of my own bed after a life well lived. That I will have earned my laugh and frown lines. And that my spirit will still be young and strong despite its vessel being old and weak. But there is no guarantee that my end will be this way. There is no guarantee that my last heartbeats will be slow and steady as they march toward my death. And quite frankly, that scares me.

I once had a dream about my wake. I was laid in a white coffin, dressed in an outfit I’d never seen and covered head to toe in thin lace netting. My hair was done up, which I never do, and my lips were stained a garish red. The room was wall-to-wall with people, but no one passed in front of my casket. No one wept or extended their hand to cover mine. And when the priest asked if anyone had anything to share, no one spoke. No one.

I woke in a panic thinking about the hairsprayed coiffé, the horrible lipstick and the deafening silence. And suddenly all the horrible things I’ve done and said lay before me like the countless pebbles on that tiny beach in Maine.

Just love these.

Just love these.

I remembered my childhood and the mountain of untruths I told. I remembered how I laughed with my friends at Barbara Denk who smelled, we said, but to whom we never got close enough to test out. I remembered how I yelled at my Grandmere after she’d asked me 209 times where my Papa was. How He’s dead seemed utterly cruel to share with her Alzheimer-ridden mind. And how I once told a boy I still loved him just as he told me he loved someone else. I didn’t though. I just wanted him to love me instead. Those are just a few, of course; there are pebbles that are more grievous and some that are less. But all of them bring me back to the admonishment of earlier this year:

You are a good person, Dani. But you need to be better.

It had been a terrible Saturday. I was very ill and had started to shake uncontrollably, as I nursed pain that felt like a forest fire moving east to west inside my upper abdomen. Bishop and Sister Hall arrived as I was in the thick of it. And before I knew it, Bishop anointed my head with oil and began to pray over me. The prayer was earnest and simple, imploring for the pain to subside and my health to return. I felt his hands shake a little upon my scalp and heard a hitch in his breath as he invoked the name of Jesus Christ and finally said Amen. As he stepped away, I felt my body go limp and saw a flash of brilliant blues and pinks. Then he appeared.

He was glorious as angels go: a beautiful strong nose, bright blue eyes a shade lighter than my mother’s, and a kind upturned mouth. His hands were unblemished and rosy, like the skin of a newborn, his fingers long and delicate.

He called me by name and shared with me some of my truths. And if I remember correctly, he reached his hands toward me more than once. Because I remember wanting to reach back and hoping that that is what Heaven feels like.

Then he slowly began to back away and said this, his last words to me:

You are a good person, Dani. But you need to be better.

When I came to I was crying. I immediately told my husband about the angel and what he’d said, to which he responded with tears. He later reminded me that I was being pumped full of powerful drugs, that I wasn’t well, that perhaps I didn’t actually see what I saw. But I wouldn’t accept it. He called me by name; he knew my heart. It was real. And he was real too.

I haven’t seen him since that day and I’m okay with that. Seeing an angel once was more than I ever hoped for and I don’t plan on wasting his advice and admonition. And while I know what I know and know what I saw, I’m still terrified of dying. I’m still terrified of leaving this Earth before I’ve done something worth remembering, something that will move people to cover my hands with theirs as I lay still in my casket. Something that will render me forever a passenger in the hearts of those I love.

And then it hits me: perhaps the something, the big thing, isn’t a big thing at all. Perhaps it’s calling to let you know you’re thought of, laying with you when you’re sick or helping you when you can’t help yourself. Perhaps it’s giving my seat up on the bus, buying lunch for someone in need or running after exhausted parents with their little one’s stuffed giraffe. Perhaps all the big things I could do would mean nothing if I hadn’t done the little things. If my heart hadn’t been right. If I hadn’t been right.

I wish my younger self could hear that. I wish she would have let herself be known in ragged form instead of the person-shaped mask used to make her appear whole. And I wish I could go back, hold her hand, and tell her the two things I haven’t always known:

It will get better.
And you will be better.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken an angel to figure that out, but maybe, just maybe, that’s why he came. To let me know that I’m on the right track. To confirm that I’ve made mistakes, tons of them, many of which I don’t wish to relive. But I’m on the other side of them now. And I’d like to think, I’m better for them, as well.

I don’t know when my last heartbeats are coming, it’s better that I don’t. But I hope that when they do you’ll put your hand over mine and whisper something to my heart, if only from the quiet of your own:

You are better, Dani. You truly are.

One of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen.  It's in L'Île-Perrot, Quebec.

One of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever seen. It’s in L’Île-Perrot, Quebec.

  One thought on “What will you say when I die?

  1. flippyzipflop
    July 19, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    In an odd way, this actually quite beautiful. It’s beautiful because YOU are beautiful. Acknowledging any wrong doings, holding yourself accountable, being truly sincere in your apologies… that’s what makes you a beautiful person. Also, the fact that you’ve come to realize that the “big things” don’t matter much at all in comparison to thousands of little things that not too many think about. You have a beautiful soul, and from that soul comes a creation such as this. I think we have ALL at one point in our lives, felt the exact same way. Each day, we are given lessons. The older we are, the more likely we are to pass these lessons. Once you’ve passed all of the lessons you set to achieve, only then will your heart stop beating. Yes, death is inevitable, but if we make each day count, each day worth living, we’ll be so tired when our number is called, to even think about being afraid. You now know. You have proof!!! There are angels walking along side of you. They will continue to do so until that day arrives. Thank you for sharing something so beautiful; a piece of your soul. And where is this beach in Maine? I’m a rock collector. 🙂

    • July 20, 2014 at 12:51 am

      Kate, this is the sweetest comment. Thank you! I’m so glad that you were able to see life in this piece, despite its major theme being death. I guess the veil between this life and the next becomes thinner with age and experience. And to me, there is nothing wrong with trying to embrace what I’ve long feared.

      I feel so blessed to be in this place and time surrounded by those I love–those who challenge me and make me want to be a better version of myself. And there is peace and beauty in that. There truly is.

      Heart,
      Dani

      P.S. I believe that photo was taken at Camden beach in Tenant’s Harbor. It’s a beautiful place!

      • flippyzipflop
        July 20, 2014 at 1:02 am

        The fact that you WANT to be a better person already makes you one. Acting upon it? Acknowledging any wrong doing and apologizing? Yes, I do believe you have taken quite a few steps up on the ladder of evolution. I envy you and hope to one day be exactly where you are.

        We used to vacation at Pemequid Point, ME. Very COLD, but the crashing waves were SOOOOO inspiring. In fact, we took a boat ride out to some private islands, and one of the islands was where the concept of Curious George was created. I’d say Maine, as a whole, is an inspiring place. Thanks for sharing such an intimate piece of yourself for the rest of us. You write beautifully and your honesty hits my soul. You’re a good person. As I said, I hope I can one day appreciate life as you do now.

        ~Kate

  2. momsranting
    July 19, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    So glad to know I’m not the only one with thoughts like this, I wonder sometimes if I’m too morbid, wondering about death and worrying about not being good enough. Beautiful post. We are all imperfect, but I think/hope we get credit for trying our best!

    • July 20, 2014 at 12:57 am

      I don’t think you’re morbid at all. We all come to that place where we need to accept our own mortality. It can certainly be scary, but if our hearts are right, I think we’ll see that death isn’t a period but a comma in the sentence of what we know to be life.

      It’s just hard to get our heads and hearts around that.

      Mine especially.

      Blessings,
      Dani

      • flippyzipflop
        July 20, 2014 at 1:13 am

        I love that!! Life is NOT a period. It IS just a comma! You are awesome, you truly are. I love the way you think and write!!

  3. TP Hogan
    July 19, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    This is an gutsy story. Admitting the things you’ve done wrong to the world. The line that hit me the most was “Perhaps all the big things I could do would mean nothing if I hadn’t done the little things.”
    Sometimes we want so much to know we’ve done the big things, to stand there and say “I did that.” Like standing at the edge of a harvest and seeing the sea of grain. The harvest would never be if you hadn’t planted each tiny seed.
    Thank you for having the courage to post this.

  4. July 20, 2014 at 1:14 am

    Just loved this, TP:

    “The harvest would never be if you hadn’t planted each tiny seed.”

    I’m so glad this piece resonated with you. And “gutsy”?? That’s really not a term that anyone would have used to describe me or my writing. But I like it. I really do.

    Blessings,
    Dani

  5. July 20, 2014 at 2:25 am

    I have spent a lot of time agonising over all of the mistakes I’ve made and untruths that I have told, this really rang true with me. But I fully agree that making a difference in this world is not necessarily about big grand actions, but small things in our day to day interactions that make this world a nicer place to live in. Just saying a friendly “Hi, how are you?” to the receptionist as you walk into a building could make a big difference in their day, I know because I have been on the receiving end of this! After I got my architecture degree I spent the better part of a year as a secretary on a construction site, so I was dragging myself to the office every.single.morning. But I remember those days now glad that I went through them, and also very grateful for my colleagues who were so cheerful and friendly that it made the job bearable! They probably don’t know this, but if it weren’t for them I probably would have left within the first month! I will always remember and be thankful for them.
    Small things = big difference 🙂

    • July 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      I’m in total agreement, sweetie. Sometimes we are a light to others and sometimes they are a light to us. The best thing is this: it’s a blessing to be on both sides.

      Heart,
      Dani

  6. StephanieJane
    July 20, 2014 at 4:06 am

    I can totally relate to your feelings of regret about poor choices in your past. I’ve never been able to feel absolved based on the fact that I was young and stupid. It just doesn’t seem to be a sufficient excuse. Because the pain I caused by my actions is not as easily dismissed by the people I hurt. I heard this quote on an episode of Star Trek, by my favorite – Captain Picard…

    “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of.  There were…loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove.  But when I pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.” – Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation

    It can’t be undone or excused, but I hope I’m at least a little wiser because of my past offenses. And I try to add more light to the world to make up for them in some way. Like you, I’m trying to be better, and I know I’m making progress. ❤

    • July 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Dear StephanieJane…as one who also has lived with regrets mayhap for other reasons, I can assure you that regrets are the building blocks to a fruitful and fulfilled future when we give those into the loving hands of Lady Grace.

      She specialized in the taking of horrors, despairs, heinous self centered focuses, and first gently wooing us to another way, and then with vigor and victory rolling up Her sleeves and transforming our straw into gold.

      She once told me in my heart that She had a little known name…it was Rumplestiltskin! The One who turns straw into gold!

      I held on to that promise…years before I began to walk in wholeness and healing, when it seemed that all my righteous deeds and acts of service were more vain than the yawning musings of an old jaded King Solomon after Cleopatra lost her beauty…

      …and She has been faithful. She is faithful. And She will be faithful.

      SJ, Lady Grace is not dogmatic and severe, as She has tragically been portrayed by those who claim Her name…no. She is approachable, warm, inquisitive, sparkly-eyed fiercely interested in our very essence, and always always welcoming.

      May you find the grace always to run towards Her in joy, and may you be filled with the faith to totally release your past to Her…ESPECIALLY those experiences you call offenses…and then just hang out with Her…talk to Her,..pour out your heart…

      …and listen.

      But be careful! You just might hear Her say that She loves you, receives you joyfully, and will send you as Her emissary, a little Lady of Grace turning straw into gold for others.

      Blessings always to you, and much love and grace,

      Charissa Grace…a graduate student from the School of Regrets, and current PhD candidate in the School of Graces.

      • July 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

        Love that you replied, love.

    • July 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      StephanieJane, I heard a moving quote the other day:

      “When you hold on to your history, you do it at the expense of your destiny.”

      – Bishop T.D. Jakes

      I’m all for embracing past hurts and mistakes, if they propel you forward to health, in all forms. But if they keep you stuck, remembering who you were and not who you ARE and will be, then I say let go.

      You are not who you were, love. You ARE the progress you are making.

      May you be held in the comfort of that.

      Heart,
      Dani

    • July 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      P.S. I love the quote you shared!

      • StephanieJane
        July 20, 2014 at 11:15 pm

  7. Danielle de Luca
    July 20, 2014 at 5:26 am

    I love you, little sister!!!!

    • July 20, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      You too, big sister.

  8. SS
    July 20, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I guess this is why they say that life is a journey. We start out with all our imperfections and we make mistakes along the way. We are constantly reflecting and refining ourselves throughout our lives. Constantly seeking to be a better version of ourselves. I think this is the human condition. This is a beautiful post Dani, and will resonate with many.

    • July 20, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      Thank you, sweetie. So glad to know we’re in this together. All my many blessings to you and yours.

      Heart,
      Dani

  9. July 20, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I have never met you, but I would say that you have made my life richer by connecting with my soul, my humanity. This post is beautiful. I believe we can all “be better.”

    May you walk in peace and light, for many, many more decades,

    -aniko

    • July 20, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Aniko, what a touching comment. I’m so glad this spoke to you; I feel truly blessed that it did.

      With much heart,
      Dani

  10. July 20, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Dearest Sister of my heart: you said

    “I’m still terrified of leaving this Earth before I’ve done something worth remembering…”

    Well, walk in peace and juicy anticipation for the rest of your days, as if the whole arc of the rest is one juicy peach to eat bite by bite…for I can attest to one thing: you have been a major source of the medicines, bandages and building materials that our Lady Grace has used to restore me to myself, and then to build a fire within that will burn bright enough and long enough to reach my end running strong and vital…visible, vulnerable, and victorious.

    I love you with my heart…thank you. ❤

    Charissa

    PS: sooo sorry I have not emailed much, totes busy and will try to squeeze some time to send a proper newsy-chatty-cathy note to fill ya in on our doings…biking, shopping (iced coffee in yer honor!), cooking, poetry readings, and wine events! Whew!

    🙂

    • July 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      You bless me, as always, with your words and heart. I am truly humbled to call you family.

      With love,
      Dani

  11. July 21, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I hopped over here after you left a comment on my blog and found myself sucked in by this amazing post that hits me right in my heart. I wish I had something more coherent to say than that but I’m heart-struck. I’ll be thinking about what you’ve written for a long time.

    • July 22, 2014 at 12:14 am

      Karen, you have no idea how much your words mean. I feel truly blessed that this post touched you.

      Truly. blessed.

      Heart,
      Dani

  12. July 22, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I always enjoy reading whet you write since there is always that deep element of emotion. I always leave with a lump in my throat, a flutter in my heart and the desire to read more. Thank you for sharing your sweet soul with us.
    Lynda ❤

  13. July 22, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Lynda, thank you for your beautiful comment.

    I can honestly say that I feel the same after reading your soul-laced poetry. You have quite a way with words.

    With much heart,
    Dani

  14. July 23, 2014 at 12:43 am

    This was heart-wrenching. I held similar notions that had warranted my little fictitious story about death. You managed to evoke such empathy and feeling that I could only wish to emulate one day. :’)

  15. July 23, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    K R, what a kind comment. I’m so glad there is a community like this where we can encourage and push others who feel called to write. I encourage and push you; and you do the same for me.

    What a blessing!

    Fingers to keyboard, friend,
    Dani

  16. July 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Very thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing.

    • July 24, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Thank you for reading, LaKeisha.

      Best,
      Dani

  17. Kris Hall
    July 24, 2014 at 4:57 am

    Hey, beautiful work on this, Dani!
    First off, it was absolutely Not the drugs. I fully and strongly believe that your experience was authentic and purposeful.
    Having had my fair share of near death experiences and having dealt with chronic, debilitating illness (my own and those that I have loved), there are things that you’ve said here that I can definitely relate to.
    Over this last half of my life, I have come to believe that it really is all about “the little things.” The way we treat people– the ones we love, As Well As those who we don’t care for too much or totally disagree with.
    God bless you for **Wanting to Be Better.*** It’s an admiral desire, and pretty much our reason for being in these human bodies, right?
    Much love to you Dani. I’m grateful that you are still among us; and I truly do believe that you Will be better.

    • July 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Kris, thank you so much for reading and for hearing my heart through my words. I’m so glad this resonated with you and am grateful you understood the bones of it.

      I had one friend tell me an angel would never appear and say such a thing. That she is concerned I’m headed in the wrong direction. That reading about my vision “makes her heart weep”, and not in a good way.

      And to that I say this: no one can know my heart more intimately than my God. He knows where I have been, where I am, and where I will be as I take my last breaths. And there is peace in that. There truly is.

      I don’t pretend to be someone or something I’m not. And I’m beyond thankful you see that. That you SEE me.

      And you know what’s even better???

      I see you too!!

      Thank you again.
      For everything.

      Love,
      Dani

      • July 24, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        Yaaaaayyyyy!!! You know my thoughts about this Sis

  18. carolineexxie
    July 24, 2014 at 7:39 am

    This is extraordinary.. I have been feeling so much like you described.. I have been so much so , a few times I have been over come with paralyzing fear even though I know that is not a way to be.. I feel I was led to this post and thank you for easing my mind xoxoxo ❤

    • July 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      What sweet comments to make. I agree, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the shroud of the unknown. But I try to take solace in what I do know. And in Who I do know.

      I am so glad you found some peace here, Caroline.

      So. glad.

      Heart,
      Dani

  19. July 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    On one of my favorite blogs, diary of a ragamuffin, she says “the harder the climb, the more beautiful the view at the top”, I see that with our mistakes too. When we are seeking to be better the view slowly changes and we can see more. It does seem that a new mountain always presents itself, but with each one it’s just more perspective gained. Thanks for your post.

    • July 24, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read, Doreen, and for sharing some of ragamuffin’s wisdom. I truly believe hearts and souls are purified through mistakes–the big and the little. And that we have every opportunity to do and be better. Sometimes it’s hard to see the lesson–and the growth–when we’re in the eye of the storm. But when the calm comes, as it always does, there is time for reflection and recognition. And there is also time for forgiveness and perspective.

      Blessings to you in your journey.

      Best,
      Dani

  20. Laura
    July 31, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Much love to you, dear friend. Whatever this life may bring and wherever the journeys may take us, I’m comforted knowing that we will always be there for each other along the way (near or far!). And I think so many people do forget about the importance of the small things. So today I tell you that you shine brilliantly like a star in the darkest night sky!!!!

    • August 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Laura, this brought me so much joy. Thank you for being my friend, despite my struggle to find the “right” words.

      You are much loved,
      Dani

  21. August 1, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Dani, this is so beautifully authentic! Thank you for inspiring me!

  22. August 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Gracie, thank you so much!! What a sweet thing to say.

    And know this: I am equally inspired.

    Heart,
    Dani

  23. August 8, 2014 at 12:29 am

    We always need to be our best selves. 🙂

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:53 am

      Agreed, Dani.

      Completely.

      Heart,
      Dani

  24. TheMomCafe.com
    March 30, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Oh Dani!! First and foremost, your words always melt my heart into this pool of tender threads that just yearn to soak in more and more and more…. seriously- they do that. I am so drawn to your voice, your exquisite gift in how you use it, that I become immersed so deeply, I lose track of anything around me.

    Yeah. That powerful.

    And this story… your heart… your thoughts… about death, and doing better, and people walking by your casket. It all moves me. Affects me. Makes me think, and wonder, and believe-

    Both in Angels and Heaven. And it gives me hope, in myself.

  25. July 11, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Dani, after I read your recent post, WordPress presented this one, which I had never seen. I agree. Our lives are lived one breath at a time, one thought, one word, one action at a time.
    I have a similar younger self. I see each year as another lap around Mt Sinai. At times, it seems like I’m in the same place, but I’m actually closer to the top. And the view is better.

    If we are so blessed to age and die as you described, the view will be outstanding.
    But even if our deaths are with some foul disease or dreaded dementia, the moment we die the view will be great.

    So loved.

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