Every soul shall taste death. You and everyone you know will die; probably some of the people you have known have already died. Although death is one of the things we all share, we often greet it with surprise, as if we somehow convinced ourselves that death was not real and this life was forever, despite all evidence to the contrary. When someone close to us does die, it naturally makes us think of our own death. But in truth, many people push such thoughts away and do not ponder over how to prepare for death and whatever lies beyond this world; instead, they continue on as before. Perhaps that is a greater tragedy than death itself.
When I was in junior high, two boys from my school died in a car accident. Their deaths were shocking due to their youth, and many of the classmates felt their own mortality for the first time. This was not the funeral of an elderly grandparent we were all attending, but rather the funeral of kids who had no sign of ill-health and thought they had all the time in the world ahead of them to figure out who they would be. This month, we remembered them 22 years after their deaths, just as they were then, never to become men or grow older with us. One of the boys was a twin, and his surviving twin remarked the great pain of losing her other half as being so strong even after this much time had passed. This month, my uncle passed away after a five-year struggle with cancer. My father marked his sixtieth birthday the same day his younger brother died. He surpassed the life expectancy given by his doctors, but his parents and older brothers were still grieved and shocked to be burying their child and younger brother of only 51 years. You probably have several similar stories to tell of deaths of near and loved ones, sometimes expected and sometimes unexpected. You know then, as a certainty, that death can come at any time and will certainly come to you.
Again and again we are advised in the Qur'an and sayings of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) to regard death as very near. None of us knows if we or our loved ones will die young or live for many, many more years. When we go about our daily affairs as if death is far removed or nonexistent, we fail ourselves and those around us by how we behave. If you can keep your mortality real before your eyes, God willing, you may experience several good changes:
- If you consider death to be near, you will be more compassionate, kind, thankful and generous towards other people. You will be careful to show your love and respect, realizing that you may never meet or talk to someone again. You will be more likely to let petty arguments fade, because you do not want to die with such arguments left open.
- Your priorities about what you strive for will change. Acquiring wealth and material things will seem unimportant if you realize that you may have only a few hours or days of life left. Instead, relationships and worship will be much more precious to you.
- You may start to think of what legacy you will leave behind. How will people remember you, if at all, after you die? What can you leave for them to help them when you are no longer living? You will come to value knowledge, example, and teaching that you might be able to share with others. You may try to transform your character to be how you would hope to be remembered, and try not to harm others through your faults.
- You may be more concerned to correct your faults immediately, avoid delay of any good deed, and find more strength to avoid a sin if you remember that your death is near. When we think we have much life left, we may put off reform or good works, but a person with a short time thinks that he may face God at any moment and will be held to account for how he spent his time and for all his thoughts and works.
In Imam Sajjad's (peace be upon him) supplication for when someone's death is announced or when death is remembered, he prayed:
"Keep us safe from the delusions of expectations,
make us secure from their evils,
set up death before us in display,
and let not our remembering of it come and go!"
Therefore, remember your loved ones and others who have died, and never regard your own death as far away. When you remember your own death, you can live a better life instead of wasting your time in this world chasing after its illusions. Remembering death helps you remember what is important in life.