Death and Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Memento Mori

l will never forget the last time I saw my Nana alive. It was Nov. 27, 2006. My parents and siblings and I were in Arizona, spending Thanksgiving with her and my Grandpa in their home. She had ALS, and it had progressed such that she could no longer talk, eat, or walk on her own.

I was brushing my teeth at the bathroom sink on the last day of our visit. As my Grandpa wheeled her past the bathroom, I came out, toothbrush in hand, and said goodnight again. She smiled big, her mouth filling with saliva bubbles she could not easily swallow, and gave me a tiny nod and wave. A few hours later, I saw the flashing red and white lights of the ambulance through the window of the bedroom I was sleeping in. We got out of bed to say goodbye to her body one last time before they wheeled her away.

Seeing her lying there on her bed, but no longer with us, was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Just a few hours before, she was smiling at me, alive. Now, she was gone.

The anniversary of her death is coming up, and it reminds me to take a second to look at my life every year. We are not guaranteed any amount of time on this earth. As Jesus says, you do not know the day nor the hour, so stay awake (Matthew 25:13).

How can we stay awake to what’s important in life?

Take a minute today to think about your death. Not in a morbid or pitiful way, but in an honest, concrete way. You will die. And you don’t know when. So, consider the following questions. If today was your last day on earth, would you be ready to die? 

First, here are practical things to focus on for the good of your body:

  1. What do you want your funeral to be like? Think about if you want certain hymns sung or an open casket for visitation.
  2. Where do you want to be buried? If you have a preference of cemetery or who you want to be buried next to, think about that.
  3. Does someone you know and trust know the answers to the previous questions so that they can take care of things for you?

Next, here are practical things to focus on for the good of your soul:

  1. When was the last time you went to confession? Might as well find a time to go this weekend.
  2. Who do you still need to forgive? Now is the time to try to repair relationship; don’t wait another decade.
  3. How much time do you spend on small or petty frustrations throughout the day? If you have a habit of getting too worked up about life’s minor annoyances, put them into perspective today.

There is no time like the present to consider the bigger picture of your life:

  1. Are you living the way you want to be remembered?
  2. What do you spend your time on every day?
  3. What do you wish were different about your life right now?

November is the month to remember the dead, and that makes for a perfect time to do some self-reflection. Memento mori is a Latin phrase that means remember death. Take stock of your life this week. What you do while you’re alive matters, so make the most of it.

This appeared at Aleteia.

Cecilia Pigg

Cecilia Pigg was a Gregorian Fellow and 2015 graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. A former editor of Catholic Match newsletter, she is a wife and mother living in Topeka, Kansas, and writes weekly for Aleteia.