Living ‘memento mori’ without falling into anxiety

Regardless of whether we have had to experience great loss in our lives, death is a reality that none of us, no matter how little we think about it, will be able to avoid entirely. Thankfully, our rich Catholic tradition provides us with deep hope and purpose when it comes to memento mori, or remembering our death.

In my early-20s, I have already experienced the death of most of my grandparents, an uncle and even several cousins, as well as received news in recent years of unexpected deaths of classmates, fellow parishioners and family friends from suicide, murder, drug overdose, illness, and car and hiking accidents. Even on the news, it seems that there are always new and tragic deaths to report.

Combine the above with my natural tendency toward anxiety, and you will often find me pacing the floor on a late weeknight if I haven’t yet heard from my husband that he is headed home. While we shouldn’t live without ever considering death, it is also just as unhealthy to overly concern ourselves with, or become distraught over, the thought of death.

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Instead, our Church teaches the importance of remembering, but not obsessing over, the reality of death. Below, I list three practical ways to embrace life to the fullest while at the same time remaining aware of the preciousness of life and that time on this earth is temporary.

Live intentionally

Do what you love as often as you can with those whom you love. Don’t put off what can be done today. Pursue your dreams as deeply as you are able to, and consciously take stock of your blessings and express gratitude for them. While we cannot always control how many days we will have on this earth, we can control the intentionally with which we approach the days we do have. We can live each day with purpose and gratitude, using our gifts and talents to bless others and enjoy the opportunities we have been given to grow in holiness.

Love large

It is never too much to tell people that you love them, lavishly and abundantly. Creating a culture of love within our homes values each moment of each day and the people you share those days with. Remembering the fragility and blessings of life from time to time helps us to appreciate more deeply what we have in this moment. When you get in a fight with someone, do your best to seek forgiveness and make amends. Go above and beyond in your care for others, letting them know that they are important and valued. Thank God every single day for the opportunity to be in the presence of your family, for every encounter is an undeserved gift that we might not always have.

Pray for the dead

Our Catholic tradition teaches about purgatory, a process of purification for those who have passed on in friendship with Christ but who are still in need of cleansing of their attachments to sin before entering into heaven. The Church teaches that our prayers help aid these souls in their purification process for heaven. I currently serve as a faith formation minister at a local parish in my community, and one prayer experience I recently implemented at the church is a monthly cemetery prayer service where parishioners meet, rain or shine, to remember loved ones through guided prayers and reflections. Most recently, we went on a Rosary walk through the cemetery grounds, praying and lifting up those who have gone before us.

These are just three ways to live life well in light of memento mori, looking to consciously appreciate the gift of our lives, while remaining aware of the life to come by seeking to love as fully as we can and to draw closer to God in virtue.

As a new year’s resolution, my husband and I began praying Night Prayer (from Liturgy of the Hours) before bed using an app called iBreviary. Some of the prayers, psalms and reflections change each night while others are always the same. One prayer that is ever-constant is the final blessing of Night Prayer. The prayer always concludes with these final words: “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.” Amen. We pray not only for safety and restfulness through the night to arise and live well for another day, but we ask also for a peaceful death, each and every day, reminding ourselves that life is a gift, and that this life is preparing us for the heaven that awaits us.

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