Memento Mori? How Can I Forget?

burial cemetery countryside cross
Photo by Mikes Photos on

We are flying through Lent, and I have yet to post my acceptance of Mary’s challenge. That is because I’ve been up to my eyeballs in mortality. It’s been overwhelming.

I began this season with a trip to one of the world’s foremost cancer treatment centers. A long-time friend recently had a bone marrow transplant and needed a ride. There were easily a hundred people in the waiting room, from all over the world, all in the fight of their lives. I described it to my husband as “a roomful of fight.” The will to live was palpable in that space.

Then I went to a funeral for a woman who had lived a long life, and who had suffered with difficult health challenges for  many years. Still, her passing came as a shock to her family.

Then my stepdad had surgery, in a state over a thousand miles away. I struggled to focus on my work at home, knowing he was in an operating room, and my mother was waiting there alone. The surgery wasn’t for a life-threatening condition, but it was a reminder that our bodies aren’t built to last forever.

Then a friend’s father passed away. Also in a state over a thousand miles away.

Then a friend’s grandson was born eleven weeks too soon.

Then, the day he came home from the hospital, my stepdad called to tell me that our family dog, Fenway, had died. I have no idea if animals have souls or not, and I am not open to arguing about it. I can tell you that Fenway was family, and it is as true and painful a loss as any other.

Then there was the mass shooting during prayers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. I have cousins in Christchurch who have been sharing their heartache, and their resolve, and their fears, and their beautiful commitment to living as a nation in community.

Then I joined my colleagues getting trained by veteran police officers in how to protect my students during an active shooter incident. I cannot begin to tell you how shaken I was by it.

Then my father-in-law celebrated his 90th birthday with a trip to the ER. Both he and my mother-in-law were diagnosed with the flu. My mother-in-law, was admitted to the hospital for a three-day stay.

Then the last member of my grandmother’s generation, my great aunt Mary, age 95, passed away.

Among the practices I have been doing throughout this season is a daily Memento Mori Examen. I review the day by asking myself these questions:

  • How did God love me today?
  • How did I show others the love of God today?
  • If this is my last moment, how did the loving measure up?

I have not kept up with all of the reading and journaling that I could be doing through this Lenten devotion, but I have not missed a day of the examen. It is a beautiful, powerful practice. Death comes for us all. In light of that, how am I living? It’s a lens angle shift that I am grateful for.

Memento Mori, Maybe?


This Lent I am going to spend time thinking about my death.

I don’t mean “dying to self” through daily sacrifices, though that’s also valuable. By all means, give up chocolate or coffee or hitting the snooze button on your alarm if you have the stamina for it.  I mean the practice of Memento Mori, remembering one’s actual, eventual, inevitable death.

The practice itself can involve placing a small skull memento on your desk, or carrying around a picture or trinket in your pocket. It’s intended to provoke more thoughtful choices by providing a constant reminder that our time spent living is short and unpredictable.

I plan to go through Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble’s Lenten Devotional, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori with a few close friends. (There is also a lovely but optional companion journal that includes relevant quotes on the topic.) Perhaps I’ll place a little skull on my desk, or wear a subtle bracelet to remind myself throughout the day. I say “subtle” because my intent is to remind myself, not to scare small children or draw undue attention as a middle-aged goth.

Is this morbid? Perhaps. I am drawn to morbid things, so I’m not a good judge. I spent a lot of time playing in a cemetery as a child, and I read a lot of horror. But neither a fascination with cemeteries and horror nor the practice of memento mori are intended to glorify death. They are, rather, a reminder of an easily forgotten truth: we are all going to die. Remembering this in a thoughtful, intentional way can only help us live more meaningfully.