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You Must Go Do the Next Thing

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I had the privilege of being present at my father’s death. It was not like I expected.

With illness you see the person — the personality — fade over time, and you come to expect that death will simply be what you call it when there’s nothing left. In light of this it’s easy to imagine that a life can taper down to nothing without any hard edges. But death itself does come down to a single moment. He was breathing, and a moment later he was not.

Having been aware of his prognosis for five years or so, I had already envisioned the moment many times, but I had it all wrong. I expected it to trigger intense grief, hysterics.

Instead, I found I felt intensely happy for him. He had arrived the finish line, and I was there to witness it. It struck me, with all the suddenness of a lightning flash, that he was the only one in the room with no problems at all. Not a trace. All his uncertainties, needs and worries evaporated, while ours still filled the room. I watched intently as he was freed from the enormous weight of simply being alive, an unbelievably heavy thing which I’d somehow lost track of until that moment.

That heaviness is something I had never fully appreciated until I saw somebody being liberated from it. The four of us at his bedside very clearly still carried it. It hung in the room like wet laundry. It was in the hallway too — in the nurse’s faces, in the other patients, in their weary families. And we were grieving for… who? The man with no more troubles.

I do forget it sometimes — that life is a constant, forceful mixture of push and pull, a ceaseless assault of needs and hopes. As pervasive as it is, we appreciate the weight of this tumult about as often as a goldfish thinks about water. Life’s current is heavy and unpredictable and bigger than us, and as long as we’re alive we are at its mercy.

Altogether I do think it’s worthwhile to be in it, for most of us, most of the time. Not that we asked for it, but our fate is to dance with this immense force until it lets us go. So we better learn to dance. 

The insight that may very well mark the beginning of my venture into the study of quality of life came from the late author Richard Carlson:

Remind yourself that when you die, your in-basket won’t be empty.

We often live life as if the point of it is to finally untangle the whole mess — to resolve all of our needs, to get to the bottom of all of our problems, to check off all of our to-do items, to relieve all stress, to balance it all out.

It should be plain to anyone that for every concern that is duly handled, another emerges to replace it. Yet we are so prone to looking at our list of worldly concerns as if it is something finite that we can conquer. I suppose it is finite, but do you really want to be done with it?

Our progress in working through the details of life seems to be the one thing that is of absolute importance. This parade of concerns gives us a degree of urgency that never really goes away until the parade stops. C’est la vie. Or is it?

As I very slowly get a little better at managing the “stuff” in life, I am getting markedly better at being okay with everything’s eternally-half-done status. I’m getting better at coexisting peacefully with stuff that needs fixing, problems I don’t know how to handle, opportunities I am mismanaging, and even my anxious moods. Peace with anxiety. Anxiety, with peace. Somehow.

Now and then I can sit right in the middle of all of my uncertain and unfinished business and relax in the knowledge that everything really is in its right place. Strangely, the more I’m okay with everything being not quite okay, the better I am at moving the little things along to a place where they do feel okay. Make sense? Not really? That’s okay.

If peace is only allowed to come when there is nothing buzzing in our minds — no worrisome thoughts or unresolved issues, then it’s going to be a long time before we arrive at it, and from there, there’s nowhere else to go. If we need to put every concern to bed before we can sit and be truly okay with the whole picture, then the world’s football coaches and drill sergeants have been right all along: You can rest when you’re dead.

Life doesn’t stop, until it does. Whatever has happened, if you are alive, you must go do the next thing.


After the doctor’s formal pronouncement, we lingered in the room for a bit. We said our goodbyes and gave our thanks. While there was no conceivable rush to leave, eventually there was nothing else to do.

We put on our coats, left the ward, and took the elevator down to the main floor.

Photo from here .

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Henway November 10, 2010 at 7:22 am

My condolences, David.

I think life is indeed filled with struggles, aspirations, and desires. And it can get tough – as you said push and pull. But that’s what makes life worth living. The fact that there we have to work for what we desire in life. That there’s no easy path to take. I know some new-agey folks will tell me to just not struggle if I want inner peace, but I love the struggle.. the competition.. the anxiety (well some of it anyway, heh).

In the end, when I die I want to feel that I really DID something in my life. Not necessarily that I made a difference in the world… I think that will come naturally from accomplishing your goals, and pursuing your dreams.

Jay Schryer November 10, 2010 at 7:53 am

Peace, for me, comes with acceptance. The more i accept things as the way they are, instead of struggling against them, the more peaceful I feel. It can be hard, understanding that everything is exactly where it is supposed to be and that events occur exactly when they are supposed to occur —especially when the results aren’t favorable to me or to my liking—but if I can accept it and move on, peace comes naturally as a result.

For me, it requires faith. Faith in myself, and faith that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should. If I am truly in a space where I believe that, and if I trust myself to take care of my end of things, then peace comes easily. But when I start doubting my faith or myself, then peace can be hard to find.

David November 11, 2010 at 7:22 am

Yes, faith, that’s it. As much as I’ve resisted the word faith in the past, it does have meaning to me now.

CC January 21, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I’ve had the same struggle with that word. It always had this religious connotation to it, and I’ve always considered myself “spiritual but not religious,” since I take in some ideas from religions (some of which I think are universal). But I think I’ve come to appreciate faith in a different manner now. As Jay said, to have peace, we need to have faith in ourselves and faith in everyone and everything around us. Kind of a “basic trust” in the world.

However, I feel like not everyone is this lucky. With with inspiring and well-writte posts like yours, it’s sometimes hard to convince people that it’s okay to leave things half-done. I know I’ve had that trouble myself, and no one could convince me out of it. Eventually, life experiences gave me this insight, and for that I’m eternally grateful. And now I watch some of my friends deal with the same thing, and it’s hard to know that I can’t pave the road for them because it’s their life and their own journey of discovery. But I suppose that’s another half-done task that I need to accept.

Steve Mays November 10, 2010 at 8:13 am

Thank you for this wonder-full insight. I missed that final breath (by minutes). I have always thought of that as unfortunate. Maybe not. Please know how much I appreciate Raptitude.

Mike November 10, 2010 at 8:56 am

Beautiful, David. Death has been on my mind a lot lately, wondering what it’ll be like, what happens next. Anyway, it’s apropos, reading this. Thank you!

Clearly Composed November 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

“Strangely, the more I’m okay with everything being not quite okay, the better I am at moving the little things along to a place where they do feel okay. Make sense? Not really? That’s okay.” That makes complete sense to me. It’s acceptance and it’s rather lovely.

May the memory of your father inspire you and warm you from the inside out.

Brenda (betaphi) November 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

Two days after New Orleans filled up with Katrina water and three days before my town was shut down by Rita wind, my dad took his last breath and crumpled onto the bathroom floor. I imagined his spirit rushing into the great tumult. He believed that we are more spirit than flesh. I was happy that the air was so spirited that week. Dad always loved big weather. I love your big writing.

Partha November 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm


Terrific. Finely, terribly finely felt. And I think it’s very courageous of you to be able to share such a very personal moment.

I’m sure we all feel for you, and are with you, at your loss (was it recent? my condolences) — although I realise that wasn’t the point of your post, but still.

Uzma November 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

My deepest condolences to you.

The end is always poignent, always reflective, to us that have to go on. Dance, like you say.

Thank you for the wisdom.

Danielle November 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Condolences indeed, David.
What a profound experience and an eloquent way to share it.
An old friend of mine/one of the great loves of my life had an incredibly unique perspective on life and death, one I learned from constantly in the years we were together. One of the most interesting things he taught me was how to identify the difference between feeling for someone else versus feeling for yourself. It can be an odd thing to think about, but it certainly adds depth to experiences like the one you had with your father. I have also experienced that strange, beautiful moment when you realize that while you are feeling a tremendous loss in your own life, you have nothing left but joy for the person who has passed. It’s a very intense experience, and though very difficult, I think it’s beautiful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I hope you found as much peace in it as I did.
My old friend summed it up beautiful with a tattoo on the upper right of his chest; a quote from Plato on The Death of Socrates, that read simply: “It was not for him that I wept, but for my own misfortune in being deprived of such a friend”. I always loved that.
Best Wishes,

Partha November 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm

“It was not for him that I wept, but for my own misfortune in being deprived of such a friend”.

That was really beautiful. Since that was Plato speaking about Socrates, I suppose it must be a fairly well-known quote, but this is the first I myself have come across it.

There can be no better way of expressing (or, more fundamentally, of feeling) real, deep but clean grief.

I empathise with that more deeply than I can express.

Brad November 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Thank you. This article is a gem.

Brad November 11, 2010 at 10:10 am

This also makes me think of a quote by Ken Wilber. He said that as we develop, everything “hurts more, bothers you less”.

Lindsay November 10, 2010 at 4:35 pm

My condolences, David.

Beautiful article. I always say life isn’t over until you’re dead. But even then, I don’t believe life is truly ever over. Just life as we know it in this human form.

Keep dancing….

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) November 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for sharing with us David.

“Strangely, the more I’m okay with everything being not quite okay, the better I am at moving the little things along to a place where they do feel okay.”

~ Liberating.

Roberta November 10, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Condolences. Beautifully written. The only time I was present at a death was for my dog who had been with us 11yrs. We had to put him to sleep, and there was definitely a sense of peace.

The last couple weeks I feel I have come closer to reaching peace with uncertainty in life and I could relate to the following in your post:

“Now and then I can sit right in the middle of all of my uncertain and unfinished business and relax in the knowledge that everything really is in its right place. Strangely, the more I’m okay with everything being not quite okay, the better I am at moving the little things along to a place where they do feel okay. Make sense? Not really? That’s okay.”

There are times when I do not have as much time to read your posts but when I do I always feel that what you write coincides with what I am going through. Thank you for sharing with the community!

Colleen November 11, 2010 at 3:19 am

I believe in what you are saying here. When a person has had a long life or has suffered with an illness for a long time it is a blessed relief for them when their time comes. Even recently when my son had a bad accident and I saw the suffering he was going though immediately afterwards from a serious brain injury I thought if this is as good as it gets for him take him now. Luckily he has made a remarkable recovery so far but has a lot of healing to do yet. Life is pretty good for the most part but I wouldn’t want to live forever.

DiscoveredJoys November 11, 2010 at 3:42 am

I’m saddened by your loss. Let me know if there is anything that I can do (remotely).

My industry has had a policy of early retirement/voluntary redundancy for years. It was not unusual to meet the ‘escapees’ in town and commenting on how well they looked.

I’ve been an escapee for nearly 5 years now and I have joined the ranks of the ‘well looking’. A significant part of that contentment is being able to say “There’s always another day.” Tasks rarely (post work) have to forced into thin time slices. You don’t *have* to do the shopping on a set day and time. Redecorating need not be slotted into weekend or evenings. If the grass needs mowing, and it’s raining, there’s always another day.

One day there will be no more days, but I shall be past caring. In the meantime every day is ‘another’ day.

LunaJune November 11, 2010 at 9:16 am

dance whenever you can
we never know when the curtain is closing
living life, remembering to laugh and share
saying goodbye

David having spent the last 28 years walking hand in hand with death sometimes on a daily basis running the Veterinary Clinic has taught me many things about saying goodbye, remembering that life is about living.
May memories fill you
and remind you of wonderful days with him
thank you for sharing

Seth Chong November 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

Hey David… my sincerest condolence to you. I understand that as much as we may be able to handle a situation, having a loved one leave us is still something that may make us sad. This is something I’d like to say to myself, but be strong David. We may not know each other, but somewhere, somehow, we perhaps share a connection. And this connection ensures that all of us are actually accompanied. My best wishes is with you. Take care.

Joy November 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Hi David,
What an incredible journey..and you have this way of highlighting some amazing beauty that might otherwise have gone unnoticed..
Dance..indeed:) Alone..in a group..with a loved one..with Spirit..with the Sun..
I extend to you much peace..surrounding the physical absence of your father..and all that you are processing as you continue to dance…

nrhatch November 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The what is . . . is.

Thanks for a wonderful post.

Dorothy November 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Thank you, David. This is a beautiful post. I hope you feel some of the peace that your dad felt as he passed. I know that your post brought me a little closer to peace in the midst of my mayhem. There is so much truth and depth in your writing… Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us….

Xiaoma November 11, 2010 at 7:21 pm

thank you david for being so genuine and honest. somehow your words always bring me peace of mind. thank you for doing what you are doing. peace brother.

Hilary November 12, 2010 at 2:13 am

Hi David .. thank you for this .. I can ‘see’ exactly where you were with your father .. my mother is slowly going .. and I get sad for me (I think/ I know) – as you say .. not for her.

Your explanation will be helpful to so many .. and your experience – is fortunate, as will be mine .. I have been with my mother so often – if she slips away … well so be it. It’s so important to be able to understand .. and often we don’t get the chance til it’s too late – I consider it a privilege to be having this experience of my mother’s last years.

My thoughts are with you – Hilary

Karo November 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I think the point of this entry is that it’s okay to go at your own pace. There will always be more to do, but if at first you don’t succeed.. do something different. I always tell myself.. any progress is progress. Actually, this article (I’m old-fashioned and don’t like the word blog) reminds me of a quote from Confucius.

“It doesn’t matter how fast you go, so long as you do not stop.”

In other words… you must go do the next thing.

Good post, David. I think I needed the reminder. Sorry to hear about your dad.

mike November 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm

….for me the initial news of the death of someone close has always been something of a shock treatment back to “reality” creating an intense feeling of aliveness in the moment…a hyper sobriety sensation which eventually gives way to grief and mourning….when contemplating the hereafter i find great comfort in the ancient scripture:”eye has not seen nor ear heard..neither has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love Him”….

Lynn Waits November 15, 2010 at 3:06 am

My deep condolences to you and your family.

I haven’t been in the situation where I lose my loved ones. Honestly, just thinking of it makes me crazy. To my parents of course, I still have so many plans for them. As the youngest among 3 siblings, I can’t really explain how tight is my attachment to them. Hopefully, they could live longer.

jonathanfigaro November 15, 2010 at 7:44 am

As long as we move onto the next thing, we cannot grow stagnant or grow weak. We become strong and the stronger we become the more we can do. The more can do, the more we can share. And all we can do is share what we know and have experienced

Murali November 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Given all the “mindfulness” topics you have posted, I thought you might find this article interesting http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16tier.html?_r=1&hp

nrhatch November 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Thanks for posting this link, it’s a wonderful reminder of the benefits of staying in the moment.

Be Here Now.

Murali November 15, 2010 at 9:18 pm


Sorry about my insensitive post. My condolences. I do realize how hard it is to lose a parent. I have always treasured what you write, and it has made a big difference to me. In my haste to share the contents of the article, I put it in the first post that was open in my browser, without realizing the content. Please do delete my post.



Nea | Self Improvement Saga November 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

This post is so beautiful, so real. Death is hard for the living to accept, but your outlook on your father’s passing is amazing. Even in the death of a loved one, you found a life lesson. Thanks for sharing that lesson with me.

Dave November 23, 2010 at 12:30 am

Beautifully written
Thank you

I agree we need to make peace with the ‘buzzing in our mind’ (good phrase!) I’ve found that I need to either meditate or tie up my monkey brain with something like playing music, juggling, running, even dancing.. to achieve this.

Gerrit November 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Condolences, David.
Great post with wonderful insights.
Nothing more I could say; death still makes me speechless…

Leah January 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

David, thank you so much for sharing this! My sincerest condolences to you, and your family. I’m so glad I read your thoughts today, I was sitting here trying to find reason for things…purpose and reason to keep going. The title of your article is what drew me to it, your words and thoughts are healing. Thank you, and Bless you!

Like you, I was privileged to be by my Mother’s bedside when she broke the bonds that held her captive to pain…and in the end…agony, for 12 years. Like you, in my mind’s eye, I saw this “end” many times before, then found it to be nothing like I had imagined. My initial reaction was pure joy, for her. “You did it Mama, you’re free!” I’d never seen so much peace on her face before…no lines, no wrinkles, no frowns. Just peace. The face of an innocent child.

Then tears. Lots of tears.

8 Saturdays ago today her spirit went to the next level of life (I’m sure we never truly die, though the box that contains us does)…this is the first year of life I face without her. She was at once my Mother, my Sister, (she raised a child while still a child herself in an age where that “just wasn’t done”) my Confidant Extraordinaire, and in the end my Child these past 7 years as her caregiver.

For the most part days are good, though there are days when the simplest of things brings a memory so powerful it stops me in my tracks, and the tears are there for a time. Then I remind myself that I’m crying for someone who is no longer in pain, sorrow or any of the other human ailments we’re known for…that she is indeed “at peace with everything.” That keeps me sane and looking forward, even if I do stall out from time to time.

Tobi February 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Dave, I’m so sorry if I was rude on that other post… thank you for showing me this one. I’m in a lot of pain so maybe I should refrain from talking to people to much right now as I might take out my feelings on them, which isn’t fair.

David February 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm

I didn’t take it as rude Tobi. Other people had the same interpretation as you, I just didn’t make it clear in the post. Whatever you do, don’t stop talking to people, it’s good for you :)

Tobi February 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’m glad ^_^ and OK, I’ll be sure to talk to people. Thanks

Si April 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

After reading your description of death in this article, for some reason i am finding death to be a very peaceful experience .

MouthyGirl May 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

This is quite possibly my favorite article, among the 20+ I’ve read so far. So simple, so poignant.

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