I recently attended “Death Talks” in Winooski, Vermont. Started by a young woman, Alexandria Kerrigan, who completed the University of Vermont’s new Death Doula course, “Death Talks” is a gathering of people who want to engage in this commonly taboo subject. Conversations are free ranging from how our various experiences with death, to why a participant is suddenly contemplating her death non-stop, to what we believe happens after death.
During the last one I attended, Alex asked a man to expand on why he has been thinking about death a lot in the last few months. He said he had downloaded an app called “We Croak” that reminds him multiple times during the day that he is going to die. Everyone chuckled at the absurdity of there being “an app for that” and then we became intrigued.
Taken by the Bhutanese saying that you cannot be truly happy unless you meditate on death 5 times daily, the developers Ian Thomas and Hansa Bergwall created an app to send this message at any given time during your day: “Don’t forget, you are going to die”. They believe by remembering our inevitable death we pay better attention to what is in front of us right now, and we perhaps lessen our fear.
Several days ago I was down by the river walking the dogs when my phone buzzed: “Remember, you are going to die.” Like any reminder from my phone, there are times I ignore them and times I pay attention. That day I paid attention. I thought about the path on which I walk nearly every day and then imagined my absence; path with me, path without me. I watched the river flow by with chunks of ice bobbing on the surface. River watched by me, river unwatched by me. I felt the cold air in my nostrils and pondered my lack of breath. I watched the dogs playing with a stick and wondered which of my children would take them. I emptied my house in my minds eye and watched a new family move in.
I engaged in my inevitable erasure.
Having, for a few minutes, paid attention to how short it all is, how remarkable it is that I get to live this life, I felt lighter. And then I was done. I called the dogs, climbed in the truck, and headed home to clean the kitchen.
For more on this subject click on these links: The Atlantic: The App That Reminds You You’re Going to Die, Tonic: Meditating on Your Death Could Make You Happier, Medium: Your Desk Will Not Attend Your Funeral