Memento Mori: How Remembering Our Death Helps Us Live
Memento Mori is a Latin phrase that means: “Remember your death.” #MementoMori makes for a great, hardcore Instagram caption, but honestly sounds pretty dark when you think about it. Yeah, we get it: we all end up dead. But it’s easier to laugh at a Halloween skeleton prop than take a moment to think about how that is what we will look like in a thousand years. Isn’t there something a bit more cheery we could do with our time?
While pretending to be immortal is a possible alternative, being honest with ourselves and taking a minute to admit that we will die can actually help us live richer, fuller lives. How? What can remembering our death teach us about living life?
It can remind us to chase our dreams.
It’s not easy to hear that voice tugging on your heart, let alone to name the direction it’s pointing you as a dream to chase. We say we are too busy, too old, too young, too [fill in the blank]. But if you aren’t dead, it means you have some minutes in your day — possibly even hours and days — left that you can be investing in those dreams. You have time to be who you want to be.
When people are faced with a final goodbye to this planet, it becomes clear to them who they wanted to be, what they wanted to do. Taking the time to think about that now gives us a chance to pursue what is really important to us. It can help us work toward becoming the person we are called to be. Remembering our death can help us prioritize the deepest longings of our hearts.
It can help us decide whom we want to spend time with.
Remembering our death can help us evaluate the relationships we are pouring time into — and decide whether they are a good investment.
Here’s a thought exercise to jump-start that evaluation: If you knew you were going to die in three days, whom would you want to spend time with? What relationships come to mind?
The relationships that are the most difficult to navigate are usually also the most important to us — that’s why they have such a grip on us! Family often knows us the best — and hurts us the best; and I’ve been told that the person I marry will the person I fight with.
Real, meaningful, intimate connections with other humans take work, but those hard relationships are often the ones that are the most worth it at the end of the day. Being seen, known, and loved is one of the greatest goods life has to offer, but that depth of connection only comes from investing in relationships, which can be messy. The good conversations, laughter, and special moments that come from those connections are beautiful, and they are worth it because they can transform us.
By the same token, perhaps there are some relationships in your life that are only sustained by convenience or shared circumstance. Maybe they lack the kind of depth or potential for mutuality that it takes to blossom into a true friendship. Remembering that our time on this Earth is limited might move us to prioritize spending time and energy with people who can reciprocate unconditional love.
It can teach us how to appreciate the moment.
After you are done reading this article and close your computer or look up from your phone, what will you do? Because that will be another moment that you are alive. Memento mori can help us realize the value, the beauty, and richness of the present moment.
Taking time to think, I will die isn’t meant to make us depressed. If anything, it is supposed to give us hope. The breath in our lungs and the beating of our hearts isn’t something we should take for granted. And it isn’t an accident. We have this moment because there is something we were created to do — some purpose we are being called to fulfill. Why are we wasting time?
No matter who you are or where you come from, we all have this in common: one day we will be dead. So, memento mori, my friend, because if we can look death in the face, it can teach us how to be more fully and wonderful alive.