The Six Feet Under Experiment
Embracing Death on the Path to a More Meaningful Life
“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”
Draw the blinds, open the windows, and let the sun in, my friends—it’s time to talk about death.
And, for the record, we’re not embarking on this experiment because we’re over 50, or we believe we have more days in the rearview mirror than we do on the road ahead. That would be way too much of a cliché. We’re talking about death so we can re-engage with life, without fear—head first and with gusto.
And to be clear—we're all going to die, right? We can agree on that. If there’s any doubt, let me be the bearer of bad news:
55 million people alive right now will be dead within 12 months. That breaks down to 151,600 people dying each day, 6,316 people each hour, 105 each minute, and 2 people each second.
I bet you’re thinking now is a good time to give yourself that coffee enema you’ve always wanted to try. I encourage you to hold off for another 90 seconds (in which time 180 more people will have died).
And I don’t intend to be so carefree with such a heavy subject. There is mind-boggling loss and grieving going on in the world. I know people are suffering and living with deep pain, trying to figure out how to survive and go on—alone and wounded. Personally, it’s incomprehensible to imagine. Like most people, I don’t want to go there, and not so much for me and my death, as much as it is for those in my orbit.
However, that story of loss and resilience is a story we’ll save for another day. Today, we will look at death from what we can only hope is at arm’s length—even if that arm’s length is an illusion. And we won’t pretend to embrace death with bear hugs and high-fives. Instead, we will approach death with a wisdom that knows what we’re really embracing is impermanence, change, and an acceptance of who we are beneath our flesh and bones.
We will begin our Six Feet Under Experiment as if we were preparing for a long trip, which is not an unreasonable metaphor. We are. And what better way to prepare for a trip than with a step-by-step itinerary? Who doesn’t like a good to-do list?
And, of course, we offer this experiment to all ages—young, old, and everyone in between. Death is the one reality we all share.
Embracing Death on the Path to a More Meaningful Life
Step 1: Get your affairs in order.
As long as we’re agreed that we’re all going to die, it makes sense to get ready for it, euphemistically known in the AARP circles as “getting your affairs in order.” Somber tone aside, the language works. We are getting our affairs in order. We’ve been doing it since we were old enough to walk. Why stop now? Getting your affairs in order involves taking all kinds of positive steps, including creating a living will, declaring power of attorney, planning for end of life medical care, perhaps donating your organs. It also means digital planning—what happens to your electronic bills, your Facebook page, your entire digital footprint? The world you leave online is real. You’ll also want to decide on the disposition of your body, the type of funeral you want, the song you want played at your funeral. Dealing with these smaller tasks is not only practical, but it’s also a gift for those you leave behind. Most importantly, it means you have to start thinking about death, talking about it, and engaging in tough conversations. Once you make your arrangements, store them safely and then get back to living.
(For the record, you can donate my brain to The Brain Bank, then sprinkle my ashes in the Pacific Ocean while Linda Ronstadt’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You” plays (a nod to my wife, Terri). Note to my kids: The song is on my iPhone. If you need fingerprint access, cut off my thumb and bring it to the beach. How cool would that be? Of course, Sandi will undoubtedly have her funeral somewhere in the South of France).
Step 2: Close your eyes to meet your true self.
Sure, you could get hit by an ice cream truck and have yourself a Spielberg-worthy near-death experience—complete with bright white lights and Elvis waiting for you at the end of a long tunnel. Perhaps all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed to you before you have to come back to your body and a home filled with dirty dishes. OR, there is an alternative—you could close your eyes and seek the same awareness through meditation, contemplation, or whatever inner work that suits your life. Meditation is not only about creating more mindfulness and peace in your life; it’s about finding deeper connections with yourself. Embracing death begins by discovering for ourselves that we are not our eyes, hair color, sex, career choice, bank account, or family. We are “something else.” And finding this “something else” unmasks death as the illusion it is.
Step 3: Simplify your life and make room for what matters.
A “less is more” mentality is the perfect way to embrace death and the “can’t take it with you” transitory nature of life. Simplifying is a clearing out that allows more into our lives (something we should have been doing our whole lives). We are not emptying the contents of our lives, we are filling it with only that which matters. Simplifying is our opportunity to not only “get our affairs in order,” but reset and refocus—to shift priorities that allow us to live a more intentional life. If you need help getting started, check out Decluttering Your Way To A More Meaningful Life.
Step 4: Say what needs to be said.
Share feelings. Show gratitude. Mend fences. Resolve conflicts. Tell people how you feel. Again, these lessons are valuable at any age. Hopefully, you were an early adopter. But, it’s never too late to learn from those who have inched close to death (on whatever side of the deathbed). Their message is always the same—life is too short to hold on, hold back, and not give it all we have. And, of course, we all know it’s true. But, how often do we do anything about it? It’s up to each of us to transform what can easily sound like a bumper sticker into a bold way of living. It takes choice. And action.
What are you holding in your pocket right now that you need to share? It may be exactly what someone needs to hear. Be vulnerable and share it.
Step 5: Write your obituary.
No, it’s not morbid! In fact, it’s quite brave. Writing our obituary allows us to think about what we’ve done, and what we still have left to do. It lets us fill in the blanks and continue to write our story. What’s missing? Where has the story turned in a direction we didn’t want? And, more importantly, how can we get it back on track? And this isn’t about adding stuff to our bucket list; it’s more about the acceptance of our lives (warts and all), as lessons that have pointed us—and are still pointing us—to a more awakened and graceful life. As Socrates said 2,400 years ago today (give or take fifty years), “The unexamined life is not worth living. “It’s a great quote, but with apologies to the sage, we’d rewrite that quote to read,” The unexamined life is a sign that we’re not living.” Write your obituary—even if you never share it—and start examining your life. Grace awaits.
Step 6: Talk news, weather, and sports…and a little death.
We need to talk about death more. I know it’s not something you want to bring up at a party, or in the locker room, or the elevator at work. There is no natural segue. “Floor 11 please…and while you’re at it, cremation or burial?” Life doesn’t work this way. For the most part, we keep our thoughts about death to ourselves, not even sharing with family or close friends. And this is true, especially as we get older and recognize that, in chronological time, we are on the back nine of life. At this point, we all have a choice. We can stay in chronological time, and keep watching the hourglass, feeling the hourglass, dreading the hourglass, OR we can unearth the wisdom that has come with that hourglass and use it to look at life that lives beyond chronological time. Of course, to do this, one must go deeper and start looking for the profound.
And it is only in the profound where we will find meaning. And it is only in meaning where we will find solace—not an escape from heartache or sorrow (that comes with the birth certificate)—but the solace to find meaning in death. And life.
While none of this will keep tears from falling when death touches close, maybe if we’re lucky, it will help dry them a little quicker, or at the very least, warm them with the glow that comes from knowing we are part of a universe that is more expansive and loving than we could have ever imagined.
Start the Six Feet Under Experiment today…choose one or two steps and take it from there. You deserve a bold new life.
Okay, NOW you can get that coffee enema…just make sure you use decaf.
Stay tuned for next week's special BuzzWorthy Picks—Funerals, Obits, and Urns…Oh My! And if you haven't signed up to have our regularly updated content delivered straight to your mailbox, go to the top right hand corner of this page and sign up now.
WE WANT YOU IN OUR COMMUNITY!
Grace awaits. And why wouldn’t I want that?! To have the courage to straightforwardly take death on as a reality and to speak with such love is an incomparable gift to all of us., Bill. To be so wise, so young is amazing, and I am so grateful that you show up right on time to teach and encourage us all. Now, I have an experiment to get to. Grace awaits. Indeed!
Thank you, Martha. I know you have lived this experiment up close and all too personal. But, if there is anyone who will still embrace this experiment with all they have…it is you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…you inspire us all! Thank you!
Take further inspiration from The Coffin Club, and yes…build your own coffin!
Or watch the musical …https://vimeo.com/229063637
Leave it to the Kiwi’s to do put a little joy into death. I want to join their club! Thanks for sharing.
Not surprised to see this video and enlightened approach to death care from the Kiwis. Australia, New Zealand and the UK are way ahead of the US in accepting that death is a part of life, and preparing for it!
Let’s hope they spread a little of their magic to the rest of the world. Can hardly wait until your own “Great Goodbyes” website gets up and running. Keep up the good work! Bill