Can we learn to die?

I do not suppose that thinking and writing about death every day will necessarily make it any easier to die one day or will make me any better at it.

I do know, however, that I will not always be in a position of wanting to think and write about these topics and so now is the time for it.

In Josef Pieper’s Death and Immortality, I just came across this excellent paragraph:

As a general rule, so-called “thinking about death” is probably a poor way of learning to die. Georges Bernanos in one of his last imaginative works, the Dialogues des Carmélites, has the dying prioress say: “I have meditated on death every hour of my life, but that does not help me at all now.” And when the philosopher Peter Wust learned for certain that he would never leave his sickbed, he asked in a diary note, evidently with profound surprise, why all philosophy failed him now.

The next paragraph is equally important:

It would seem that the only meaningful preparation for death, true learning to die, would have to consist in somehow “practicing” or “getting used to” – perhaps without especially thinking about death or even talking about it – that never foreseeable last free decision which will be required of a man when he dies. But what is the nature of this decision?

What does it mean to practice true learning to die?

Pieper goes on to discuss man’s final disposition as “a religious act of loving devotion in which the individual, explicitly accepting death as his destiny, offers up himself, and the life now slipping from him, to God.”

It may be quite counterintuitive to the goals for which we ordinarily strive. Yet, to practice acts that will lead to such a final disposition, we need to find and seek occasions to continually offer ourselves up.

This, after all, is really the meaning and value of such things as mortification and detachment.

One thought on “Can we learn to die?

  1. I think the final test you take is one on Love. Whether you know how to love by total gift of yourself or not is your pass/fail to eternal life. And you can practice that everyday.


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