Learning from Death & Embracing Life  

As a little girl, I remember hearing the phrase “death is a fact of life.” Rather than fear this fact, I had an insatiable curiosity and began wondering.

Where does the body go? What happens to a dead person’s ability to love? What happens to their belongings? Is heaven really in the sky? How do birds fly alive in the sky with all those dead people? Why can’t I see the dead people in the sky? Do I need special eyeglasses or a telescope to see the dead people? Do the storm clouds hold the mean, violent, angry dead people? Do the white puffy clouds envelope the kind, loving dead people?

Do people fear death as much as they fear living? Why won’t anyone tell me more truths about death except that it happens, and we don’t ever really know when it’s going to happen?

I know dead people cannot poop or eat or sleep or run, skip, dance, or do jumping jacks. I know all human activity ceases. I know that all people die which makes death the equalizer. Death teaches me this truth.

I now know death happens to infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, parents, seniors, and people who lived alone. Death happens to people when they were eating, laughing, peeing, driving, watching a parade, sitting in their seat at school, shopping, dining at a restaurant, praying in their church, mosque, or synagogue, hiking in the woods, or up a mountain.

Each conceivable thing a human can do in their alive life-a person has died doing that thing.

Death happens to addicts, prisoners, stockbrokers, vegetarians, meditators, warriors, peace activists, humans of all gender identities, races, and faiths, to agnostics, atheists, gratitude journalists, artists, authors, ministers, joyful, goofy, hilarious people.

Many years of contemplating death keeps freeing me to live and not take myself so seriously.

Maybe it helps that I have been living in a house of joy with my Sweet Love on the side of Magical Mountain surrounded by trees, flowers, sunshine, Carolina Blue skies, clouds, and beauty everywhere my eyes can see. Maybe I have realized life truly is this brief gift of breaths, moments, direct experiences, and opportunities to love, to appreciate everyone and everything as frequently as I can.

Often, I have a poignant awareness that the next conversation with a person could be my last one with them.  I notice I listen deeper and share from my heart as best as I can. I allow the love and care to flow through as much as I can.

I don’t know when I will die yet I know I get to share my gratitude, not as a protection from imminent death, but because sharing my thankfulness feels amazing, life-giving, and meaningful.

I realize love transcends disappointments, regrets, and mistakes. Unconditional love flows no matter what happens. Even in our failings, floundering, and seemingly flawless interactions, love shows up.

And as my dad said many times to me as a little girl, “there’s nothing you can ever do that will stop me from loving you.” As I approach the anniversary of my dad’s death, I now know his words were true. Love always finds a way to love. Always.

Love flows when the great blue heron takes off in flight over the lake with its blue-gray wings gracefully undulating. Love flows whether great blue caught a fish or didn’t catch a fish, whether it stood silently in the stream or called out with its unique screeching heron voice.

Death does not steal love; it steals away time for love to be expressed and received. The reality of death expands the urgency to love, to embrace living.

May you live celebrating this brief gift of life. May death become your greatest teacher of how you choose to live and to love.


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Laura,
    I enjoyed reading your article. I love the curiosity that was sparked in you about death and the questions that were brought up for you in your youth. I was particularly drawn to “Do the storm clouds hold the mean, violent, angry dead people? Do the white puffy clouds envelope the kind, loving dead people?”

    It caused me to think about how we are all the elements, and are directly related to the planet, (water, earth, air, fire….) From a shamanic perspective weather can be reflective of the consciousness of people. I find this question “Do the storm clouds hold the mean, violent, angry dead people? Do the white puffy clouds envelope the kind, loving dead people?” to be very thought provoking, if the energy of the emotions when someone dies, does it go with them? are they freed of it, or does some times it get’s held in the clouds. I would say yes…that could happen…

    All i really enjoyed reading your article about death and living.

    • Dear Gina, Thank you so much for your thoughtful reflections-for offering a shamanic perspective about those questions I often asked myself as a child (still remember them as an adult!). I’m grateful to know you found those questions to be thought-provoking for I know so many people believe in the messages of animals after people die-especially the red cardinals as messengers of our beloved ones who have passed-so why not the clouds, too? We are energy beings, after all…and made of earth-from dust to dust-as some would say-so yes, why couldn’t that emotional human energy come in the form of a thunder cloud or white puffy clouds? I hear you in the curiosity and considering that yes, that could happen! Wasn’t it Einstein who discerned that energy cannot be destroyed-only transformed?

      I’m so grateful to know you enjoyed this essay exploring life and death and really appreciate your insights, meaningful, thoughtful perspective. I wish you a day surrounded by white puffy clouds and so much kindness! With heartfelt gratitude, Laura

  2. Oh Laura, this is wonderful! I laughed out loud at the wonderful curiosity that only a child can bring when you wrote, “How do birds fly alive in the sky with all those dead people?” What a great question! LOL!
    Then you hit me right between the solar plexus when you wrote, “Do people fear death as much as they fear living?” because of course that is one of the biggest ironies there is. Most of all, I loved your call to action when you wrote about the “urgency to love and embrace living” and how you so gently and beautifully model that for all of us. Thank you!

    • Dear Kimberly, Oh, I appreciate knowing how you experienced this essay from laughter through the “hit in the solar plexus” to the call to action! I do believe one of the biggest ironies is that sometimes people fear death so much that people then fear living fully alive-heart, mind, body, soul… No matter how many times I circle through contemplating death because I continue to learn about many people dying-for all types of reasons-I find I experience a depth and breadth of peacefulness, of freedom, of a willingness to love. How wonderful to hear from you, my friend and I appreciate you seeing me as a model of someone loving and living as I see you doing and being your very own courageous, honest, and delightful bright shining self–inspiring others into action to make a positive difference in the lives of others-so many others. Thank you, my friend! Writing from my heart continues to be a joy and you are very welcome! 🙂 With heartfelt gratitude and love, Laura

  3. Now this is a refreshing way to look at death. Acknowledging the beauty of life and things in life we come into contact with. Bottom line live each day to it’s fullest as if its your last. We all do die. It is inevitable part of life but if we concentrate on death we loose out on life. Least thats what I got.out of this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Dear Eva, Yes. The essence of what you gleaned is to live life to its fullest every day. Yes! I appreciate your reflections for many people can become consumed with the fear of death that they forget to live fully while they are alive-to embrace how death actually teaches them to appreciate the depth and breadth of living a human life. I appreciate you. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections and you are very welcome. My joy!
      With joy and gratitude,

  4. Oh, Melissa, I hear you-these mass shootings bring me deep heartbreak and-a sense of powerlessness-anger with political officials who seem unchanged, unmoved by all the deaths of children-now the leading cause of death of children (1-19 years old) in USA…and I often think what action can I take to make a positive difference to that horror? Then I remember how anger is often passion turned inside out-healthy anger points me to what I deeply value-cherish and the need to focus actions towards what I would like to create-a world at peace with children-to share creative ways to get there. And I’m grateful to know this essay reminds you of your ability to shift into how you live your life today. Thank you for your honest, heartfelt sharing. and you are very welcome. My Joy!

  5. Laura, this is such a powerful piece! It’s so easy to get caught up in the sorrow and the “whys” and the unfairness of death sometimes. I read this piece in light of the recent school tragedy in Texas. I’ve been so angry at the senselessness of that whole thing: mass shooting, thoughts and prayers, rinse and repeat. This is such a good reminder that I can live in my anger or I can make that anger the impetus for how I live my life today. Thank you as always!