Practice your dying breath

dying breath

What last sights?

Practice your dying breath every day, is my advice.

That way you’ll have one ready — in your back pocket or up your sleeve — in case your actual last breath goes off-script and isn’t the one you always wanted. More on that below.

I’m Don with Piedmont Pine Coffins. As part of my work, both with the coffins and at their cottage-industrial home Melleray Farmstead, I get to think about what a “good death” is and how to prepare for it. We make simple pine boxes and help families make green and affordable choices for end-of-life care.

The dying breath of your hopes and dreams is part of a general ambition for what’s called a good death.

In a good death, you’re probably at home. You’ve said good-bye and are at peace with your estate. You’ve passed necessary messages of love and forgiveness to your kin. You’re in your own bed.

As you draw your last breath, your senses are on fire with awareness. You feel the gentle scratch of the cotton sheets, and you are grateful for that final perception. You hear sounds you identify with home — road noise, a TV, crickets, perhaps an electric buzzing you’re starting to notice in your ears — and you are grateful. Your eyes take in the beloved comfort of this particular room one last time in specific details like the color of the dust on a green lampshade when the bulb is shining through, which it now is, and you are grateful. You can taste the sweetness of that just-now sip of water on your tongue — even at the last, a surprise, water is sweet!, you realize — and you are grateful. You smell something, too, and it’s not a good smell, you’re not sure what it is, but since it’s the last imprint to register in your nose, which has served you all these many years as an exquisite guide and excavator of recondite memories — in spite of the unpleasant smell, you are grateful.

All of this in one brief moment of a dying breath. Awareness plus total gratitude. Such a magical dying breath is like a golden gong rung to commemorate the last hour of the last day of an unrepeatable life on this magnificent earth.

It is the holy grail of dying breaths.

Three reasons to practice your dying breath

But what if things don’t go as planned? They probably won’t, you know. Who knows how and where you’re going to die? Take a few moments and aim for your best dying breath now. Here below are three reasons why. Reply with more that come to your mind — we’d love to hear!

DEATH AVERSION: I won’t be dying in the rain. Not in the dark. Not on a train. Not in a car. Not in a tree. I will not die at all, you see. Not in a house. Not in a box. Not with a mouse. Not with a fox. I won’t be dying here or there. I won’t be dying anywhere! (Hat-tip to Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham.)

  • To combat our culture’s death-aversion. See right.
  • To infect the rest of your day with awareness. So Buddhist.
  • To be more grateful. Gratitude is the attitude of the perpetually pleased.

Practice it. Breathe in, and as you do, notice all that you are perceiving. Awareness and gratitude can be yours today, for free, and squirreled away like a treasure under the leaves that are about to fall this autumn. That way your dying breath will be ready for you come winter.