The Reality of Death Should Change You

Consider the following quote by Frederick Buechner. “Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true.”

I’m not a fan of trite expressions, but how do we really start to live like we’re dying? Or how do we absorb the knowledge that those we love will die, possibly tomorrow? This has been on my mind over the last few weeks. It started when I received one of those dreadful phone calls that most of us have experienced at least once. A former student of mine had tragically died at the age of 20. I have never known a more joyful young man, yet in his short life he faced an onslaught of troubles unfathomable to most people. He had the ability to instantly improve my day with his incredible smile and amiable personality. He was so charming in fact that one day he convinced me to postpone a test for the entire class. I simply adored him. This past December I received an email expressing how much he loved college and how he planned to follow his dreams until they came true. When I heard the news of his passing three weeks ago I instantly burst into tears. For the next several days I would just start crying in random places. My eyes welled up at the grocery store, the gym, and Starbucks as fond memories of him flooded my mind.

I concluded that I want this painful loss to have a lasting impression on me. I want it to make a permanent, visible change in how I live my life. After unexpectedly losing a loved one most people make a few temporary changes. They might call someone they care about, try to have a better attitude, or even chase a distant dream. For other people, the realization that life is short might cause them to abandon all responsibility, travel the world, or jump out of an airplane. As for me it’s all about relationships, being there for others, and living with no regrets. I’m only on this earth for a brief moment in time. I want to live as though I have no problems, and instead live to help others with their problems.

The hard part is putting this realization into action and “living as though it were true.” By no means do I have it figured out. Making any significant change requires constant work, moment by moment. Here are some tangible things I have done in the last few weeks:

  • I called a friend who was tugging on my heart. This person is very special to me, and I managed to wreck our friendship last year. I said I was sorry. I said I love you. While our conversation was painful for me and did not make any progress toward restoring our friendship, at least I know there is nothing left unsaid on my end.
  • I mended my heart with an old friend. Not that we were on bad terms, but we deeply hurt each other when we were young and it had a significant impact on my life. Last week we saw each other for the first time in over a decade. The result was one of the most uplifting, heartfelt discussions I have ever had. It was eighteen years overdue, but I am truly thankful! It’s seldom that people have a chance to reach the type of closure that ends on a heartwarming note.
  • I opened up to a new friend. As women, we oftentimes care so much about what others think that we put up barriers and never really let people get to know us. We want to appear perfect, like we have it all together. Life is too short to keep our friendships on this surface level. I only met her a few months ago, but this person already knows me better than friends I’ve had for years. During our coffee dates we dive into real life issues. We talk about how we’re actually doing, not about what’s for dinner or items on our to-do lists. We have connected on a deeper level, not because we have everything in common but because we are intentional and genuine. She holds me accountable to live a better life for others and she keeps me encouraged. Her friendship is good for my soul.

Will you live a fully engaged life? One of the best basketball coaches of all time said this when he was dying of cancer: “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – Jimmy Valvano



  1. Hi Tracy!

    I found your post through Mike on Facebook. I’m sorry to hear about your student. He sounds truly inspiring and I wish I could have known him. I like your idea of focusing on relationships. After a very very long week at work your post really resonated. I just came back from our weekly work happy hour and was thinking about how much I appreciate those moments outside of the office in which I get to know my co-workers on a more personal level. It’s not about the drinks, though that sometimes helps take the edge off from a stressful day, it’s about building bridges outside of the workplace. I went 9 months on pineapple juice and still enjoying our weekly happy hours. It’s good to hear from you, albeit indirectly.

    Thank you for your thought provoking post!


  2. I love Buechner!


  1. […] I rarely discuss and very few people in my life even know about it.  Like I said in my post The Reality of Death Should Change You, I want to live as though I have no problems, and instead live to help others with […]

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