tree in the shape of a head, with leaves blown off, also retaining the shape of a head

Whether facing one’s own death, or the death of a loved one, many have written wise words about the topic of dying. Here are a few for your reflection.

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Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

— Eugene V. Debs

The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly. In our own lives we give them immortality. Let us arise and take up the work they have left unfinished, and preserve the treasures they have won, and round out the circuit of their being to the fullness of an ampler orbit in our own.

— Felix Adler

Religion is a wizard, a sibyl . . .
She faces the wreck of worlds, and prophesies restoration.
She faces a sky blood-red with sunset colours that deepen into darkness, and prophesies dawn.
She faces death, and prophesies life.

— Felix Adler

It is written that the last enemy to be vanquished is death. We should begin early in life to vanquish this enemy by obliterating every trace of the fear of death from our minds. Then can we turn to life and fill the whole horizon of our souls with it, turn with added zest toall the serious tasks which it imposes and to the pure delights which here and there it affords.

— Felix Adler

When the light of the sun shines through a prism it is broken into beautiful colours, and when the prism is shattered, still the light remains. So does the life of life shine resplendent in the forms of our friends, and so, when their forms are broken, still their life remains; and in that life we are united with them; for the life of their life is also our life, and we are one with them by ties indissoluble.

— Felix Adler

Good deeds remain good, no matter whether we know how the world was made or not. Vile deeds are vile, no matter whether we know or do not know what, after death, will be the fate of the doer

— Felix Adler

I think we should look forward to death more than we do. Of course everybody hates to go to bed or miss anything but dying is really the only chance we’ll get to rest.

— Florynce Kennedy

Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die.

— Forrest Church

What I wanted to express very clearly and intensely was that the reason these people had to invent or imagine heroes and gods is pure fear. Fear of life and fear of death.

— Frida Kahlo

If the Earth were not subject to any change I would consider the Earth a big but useless body in universe, paralyzed … superfluous and unnatural. Those who so exalt incorruptibility, unchangeability and the like, are, I think, reduced to saying such things both because of inordinate desire they have to live for a long time and because of the terror they have of death … they do not realize that if men were immortal, they would have never come into the world.

— Galileo Galilei

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.

— Harriet Beecher Stowe

Look well to the growing edge! All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!

— Howard Thurman

It is not only the living who are killed in war.

— Isaac Asimov

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Reclamation is hard work. Finding the value in your group’s characteristics means always having to confront the darkness in those characteristics. For example, it is acceptable, and productive, to think of America as a great nation. It has many great characteristics, from the freedom it grants its citizens to the cultural contributions it has fostered and rewarded. But by unearthing America’s good qualities, you will also find its destructive qualities. The way it has interfered internationally and created death and misery for countless citizens of other nations, its history of genocide and slavery, and so on. It is possible to know America’s destructive power and still think it is a great nation. But some prefer not to look at all, so as to avoid the cognitive dissonance.

— Jessa Crispin

You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.

— Joan Baez

A useless life is an early death.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

— John McCrae

I guess I just process death differently than some folks. Realizing you’re not going to see that person again is always the most difficult part about it. But that feeling settles, and then you are glad you had that person in your life, and then the happiness and the sadness get all swirled up inside you. And then you’re this great, awful candy bar, walking around in a pair of shoes.

— John Prine

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

— Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court Decision

I got well by talking. Death could not get a word in edgewise, grew discouraged, and traveled on.

— Louise Erdrich

If this is dying, I don’t think much of it.

— Lytton Strachey

When you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it.

— Marlene Dietrich

Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophical, but I will say that if you’re alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.

— Mel Brooks

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

— Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly.

— Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole…The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or thought – but that simplicity is merely the dullness of death. When we think together we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves.

— Parker J. Palmer

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! [March 23, 1775]

— Patrick Henry

We ought to live each day as though
it were our last day here below.
But if I did, alas, I know
it would have killed me long ago.

— Piet Hein

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

— Rabindranath Tagore
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