The measure of triumph lies in the size of hardship, as the light in life comes from the embrace of darkness, death. Immerse yourself in matters of death and when you emerge, you will live joyfully.

To become the best man or woman, leader or disciple, parent or child, size death and you will live with confidence.

The key to unlocking the joy in life is to understand and release the fear of death. Understand how it computes in your life and you will become fearless and real. You will be confident and humble because you will have clarity about your life’s mission and you will be clear about your priorities. If you want to live a full life, be clear about death. To experience life, dive into the richness of death. Death is the immersive bath that cleanses your life. Understand death, and become the unstoppable force of life.

I’ve been there since birth and don’t even know how early this reality entered my consciousness. When I was born my grandfather was on his deathbed, and my birth comforted him. My father, a surgeon narrated many stories where his team defeated death on behalf of his patients; and the times when death prevailed. I saw my grandmother drift into this mystery after a stroke. Ten years ago, I was holding my father’s arm when he took his last breath. Last Saturday, I was holding my eighteen-year-old Golden-Cocker’s neck and stroking his face when he took his last breath. Each time, the light of life force extinguishes in my life, I find myself needing the meditation of to grieve the loss of energy, sustain the deep shock, a body blow, and an emotional knockout punch. But balance returns with lessons, resolve, and joy. The force of goodness always boomerangs with more power than the vacuum, the hollow, and the silence from a dear life form’s inevitable transition.

There is no better measure of life than death. It is final and absolute, and it is an absolute mystery. It is the ultimate and final black curtain. The brief moments of the falling curtain reveal the final ledger of life. The curtain of death is the final performance. It’s simultaneously rich, dark, and dazzling and it reveals and connects a kaleidoscope of life that is only sparsely and briefly visible.

My father fought off death for ten years before his organs started to fail. Death came in a final month of over-treatment exuberance. But until a failed dialysis clouded his brain function, he fought death even when he was not conscious. His decline held the kernels of life’s wisdom, his one-liners that I will never forget: “every man should have a son like you,” he told me one time. He was equally generous in his praise of others. But he also saw clearly who had done him harm. He had a new kind of clarity. It was his truth. In the dying days, I have seen that life’s clarity is in full bloom. Fighting for survival is important. It is encoded in life’s DNA.

Buddy was down to only twenty pounds, from his once waddle-ly 60-pound younger days. He had lost hearing, then barking, then one eye’s vision, then some loss in the other eye. Then his hind legs lost strength and then his front legs weakened too. But like my father, Buddy did not lose his mental faculties. He moved his paws to be taken out. He mouthed sounds to be fed. His eyebrows still spoke, smiled, and scowled. And he ate with a relish. Peanut butter and Tiramisu were anytime hits. When Buddy took his last breath, I felt his windpipe collapse. It went limp. But our pooch also hung in there until he could. He had no disease and no pain that we could tell (his doctor, the amazing Allison Kean of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley had seen to that)>

That look of the realization that the final frontier is here, whether in men or animals is unmistakable. The sharing of that moment holds the whole religion of life. Mortality vanishes in spirituality if you believe in it. Otherwise, this is when the switch turns off. Death is the most ugly life moment, but it simultaneously also encases serenity, solemnness, and grace.

Unless we can imagine death, we can’t live life to the fullest. Living through the process of dying is the education to imagine death. It is ugly and hard, but if you want to live with vigor and joy, justice and peace, learn about death. You will live a fearless life.

One of the strongest men I know, my friend and role model in many ways, said to my children one day. I admire your dad because he is fearless. Estes Banks played in the Superbowl on the Oakland Raiders team. The reality is, that I afraid of many things, just not of many things that don’t matter. And because I am not worried about them, they keep coming effortlessly and in abundance: money, possessions, and opportunities. I am afraid until I can know that I will keep my word that I have the ability to keep my commitment, that I will be seen as a person of honor. And this is what drives me. The purpose is bigger than just me. In making and keeping commitments, I am chasing a mission and goal that’s far bigger than me. So I am impossible to stop.

I am clear about life’s priorities because I know death. I know what I need to do before I could die, what is incomplete and what are the consequences. My talks of consequence and with those of consequence are complete.

The jolt of death is the ultimate reminder of human frailty and mortality. It separates the real from everything else. I know what is real for me. So I am fearless in transactions of millions, while I am vigilant when it’s a matter of missing a commitment. Don’t sweat the small stuff, they say. But to know the small from the big stuff, this is what you have to know: death and what it means to you.

Don’t duck the reality of death. Participate in the ugliness of suffering before death, when gradually the limbs go limp, when you need to lift a frail body, and when you need to clean soiled sheets of fluids and defecation. These are not things that make death worth hiding from, these are precisely the precious granules of treasures that validate life.

The suffering in death is the liberation of life. The final deathblow is the ultimate measure of a life lived. Know death so that you can enjoy life. Each death inspires new life. Each loss is a reminder to engage fully. To live joyfully, embrace death!


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