The other day, Fr. Mike Schmitz released this video, “The Key to a Happy Death” in which he shares that a student recently asked him, “In your experience, have you found that people who live a long and fulfilling life are more prepared, or better prepared to die–that they’re able to let go of their life more easily?”
And to this, he answered no.
“I have not found that someone who has lived a long and fulfilling life is any more equipped or any better prepared for death, on its own,” he said. “In fact, those who have lived a long and fulfilling life have a lot to lose. Those who have lived a life of abundance have a lot to let go of.”
Fr. Schmitz goes on to speak of 15-year-olds he knew who died filled with gratitude for the 15 years they got to live in the world. By contrast, he mentions having known a great-grandfather who would not even look at his great-grandson because of being filled with resentment that this new child has his whole life ahead of him.
The key, therefore, to being prepared for death is not so much a long life or even a fulfilling one, but rather a life filled with gratitude where each and every day is seen as a gratuitous gift, graciously received and in no way owed.
This reminded me of the last sentences of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book Man is Not Alone in which he says: “The aspiration is to obtain; the perfection is to dispense. This is the meaning of death: the ultimate self-dedication to the divine. Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on man’s part for God’s gift of life. For the pious man it is a privilege to die.”
If the number and even the quality of our days will not ensure our readiness for death, then it is worth cultivating a spirit that will enable us to reciprocate the unmerited gift of life by giving ourselves over with gratitude.