Death Awareness Brings Me to Life

This summer, I’m giving up. I’m giving myself up, that is. Offering myself up. To acknowledging death. To embracing life. I Give Up. 

Photo Credit: 2013 Self-timed photo, Jennifer Mathews ©

When I was training with laughter yoga founder and guru, Dr. Madan Kataria, he told a story of being interviewed about how the idea of laughing for no reason came to him. He shrugged his shoulders, then matter-of-factly pointed at the sky.

“It came from Up,” he said, his Indian accent and eyes emphasizing the last word.

I could feel what he meant. It’s where most inspiration and creativity comes from . . . somewhere beyond our daily routine. Somewhere vast and bigger than we are. It’s also the place from which I prefer to live. To live from Up.

Focusing on death

For the past year, I’ve been writing this blog twice per month.

I’ve been focusing on death and dying issues in numerous other ways too. Many hours of 2015 have been consumed – in the best of ways possible – with the film Death Makes Life Possible and organizing community screenings, doing media work and outreach, and creating educational materials. I’ve networked with Hospice staff and volunteers, Death Midwives, founders of grassroots projects, conscious dying coaches, authors and poets and nurses and chaplains and caregivers and countless people who have experienced the death of those they love.

I’ve helped put together local Conversations on Death and Death Cafe gatherings, and I’ve had an abundance of meaningful discussions with friends and strangers alike. In July, I went to an incredible 6-day intensive class with Stephen Jenkinson, who offeres teachings from his new book Die Wise and his Orphan Wisdom School. Soon after that, I finally had one last ceremony my beloved partner Kate requested, over 3 years after her death. Needless to say, it’s been a very full year thus far. And I have lots to share with you.

But now I’m on “vacation.” (At least that’s what my gmail automatic reply tells me).

Despite all of this activity, I still have wondered if skipping a couple months of blog posts was “giving up,” in the way we traditionally mean it. That I’ve let go of my commitment to sharing my perspectives and experiences with you. That I’ve become lazy in my discipline. That I’m somehow failing.

But then I realized that rather than giving up, I’ve been giving INTO the Up.

Focusing on life

I’ve been letting “Up” – whatever you tend to call it . . . Life, Spirit, Higher Power, God, the Universe, Collective Consciousness – guide me and bring me more alive. And honestly, this didn’t grow out of a need for a break. It didn’t grow out of feeling overwhelmed or too busy. Or feeling depressed from all this “death and dying” talk.

It grew out of allowing death and dying to become such an essential part of my life.

It grew out of giving up being overly consumed by my self-created fictitious timelines that can take over my life.

It grew Up.

The Death Makes Life Possible film’s tag line is “transforming the fear of death into an inspiration for living,” and friends, after this year (or three, but who’s counting?) of such a concentrated focus on death, I’ve found that it’s true: Having a keen awareness of death DOES inspire living life to the fullest. I have noticed as the weeks have gone by how I am much more willing to give into the Up, to embrace new opportunities and follow my heart. For some reason I didn’t realize that my death focus was actually influencing ME.

I thought I was already living fully. I thought I was already alive.

But I have been discovering where my edges are, where my fears hold me back, where I tend to shrink back when I want to expand and flourish.

This awareness has supported my choices to fulfill more of my dreams. I’ve been traveling and meeting people from all over the world (and all I had to do so far was go to Canada and to a festival in Michigan – ha ha!). The preciousness of my life has been something I’ve focused on for years. And yet, it now seems even more precious. I feel more fragile and more rugged at the same time. More raw and more willing and more ready.

Simply put, death awareness has brought me to life!

For now, I’ll leave it at that. It is the reason I’ve chosen to let go (to Give Up) writing articles for you this summer. I trust that I am giving to the Up by living the fullest life I can possibly live day to day. I do this in the name of all those who have died before me. I do this knowing I will die too, in timing that is currently unknown to me.

I hope you can imagine me shrugging my shoulders to the Mystery, pointing matter-of-factly to the sky.

I Give Up.

And I Grow. Up.

Dying is my destiny and living is my choice. For that I am grateful.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, spiritual cheerleader, and change maker. She currently calls both Bristol, Vermont and Mount Shasta, California home (when she's not traveling elsewhere, that is).

Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. In her personal and unconventional TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” she invites us to break free from the limitations and language of a grieving process and change the way we think about and respond to the death of those we love.

Jen is a founding member and organizer of the Ashland Death Cafe and the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon. As part of the Community Outreach team of the award-winning film Death Makes Life Possible, she has facilitated conversations on death, dying, and the afterlife in the US, the UK and Ireland.

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6 thoughts on “Death Awareness Brings Me to Life

  1. Hi Jennifer, it’s Tonianne; we took laughter yoga training together…remember me? I also lost my beloved Ed three years ago May 13. I remember and LOVE the Up quote and finally get it now. I am so full of gratitude and respect and joy for your work. Keep it Up! Very good, very good, yay!!

  2. Hi Jen,

    Ana and I were thinking of you yesterday living fully in the heart of nature, where all living and dying are one glorious expression of what is….

    With love,


  3. Up up and away my friend. Always such a pleasure to hear from you!
    Thanks for the reminder to give Up…to get Up…to grow Up…

  4. Hi you beautiful soul!
    Thanks for sharing your UPlifting thoughts and INsights Jen… they resonate with me totally!
    I absolutely love your last line, “Dying is my destiny and living is my choice. For that I am grateful.”…now ain’t that the TRUTH!?!!! Bless you.
    Much love to you and your life ~nance xo