Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

When Death Comes

--by Mary Oliver (Oct 03, 2006)

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

--Mary Oliver

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14 Previous Reflections:

On Sep 20, 2015 LucyKay wrote:

 Oh my lord. What a fantastic piece of writing. Truly beautiful. Thank you Mary Oliver xxx

On Jul 22, 2014 Moe Miller wrote:

 When death comes like a starving wolf pouncing on a helpless lamb,

I am the meat, but He is the blood, and death does not own me, for I am the slave of another Man.


When death comes like the jailer with the keys to the door,

I step into the brightness, neither to wonder or wander anymore.


And I look back to see time was but a map, showing the paths to narcissism and the paths to love,

stairs to the loneliness below, and stairs to the friendship above.


And each name a delight in my mouth, each friend my sumptuous meal,

rendering me nourished, satisfied, whole, and real.


When all is said and done, I am just a domino in a long line,

and on queue, I fall tipping another, for no one can simply visit time.

         -Moe Miller

On May 31, 2007 Timoteo wrote:
Jesus is our REAL life.We never die.The REAL I, never dies.We do not think of death.We think of life,the eternal life.It is not an illusion.IT IS THE PURE AND AUTHENTIC TRUENESS AND REALITY.So remember the ETERNITY n o w.This moment is very, very important and vital.Thank you Mary Oliver, for sharing about WHEN DEATH COMES.

On Oct 26, 2006 Ebenezer Okpara wrote:
Life I can say,is all about what you left behind for others to see and may be emulate.It pays to live your foothprints on the sands of time.That is another kind of great legacy one can live for his or her loved ones,Ones memory is often kept alive even when He is nowhere to be found.this is the case of many Great inventors who are dead for long,e.g when you pick up you telephone,who do remember??.when you switch on your electricity who do you remember,when you see the rail,cars,your computers,televisions,radios etc.
this and more I feel is life, which is proved (like a gold is refined through the fire)when DEATH COMES.

On Oct 23, 2006 elsa wrote:
A wonderful piece of art!
This reminds me the beautiful song,"oneday at a time" A life lived fully today has no regret tomorrow.I want to be fully Human,And fully Alive.
Thank you for inspiring me.

On Oct 16, 2006 bharat wrote:
In gita it says,u r not this body,u r eternal, so who dies? ego dies.what is ego? bharat,who thinks he is individual,if it is true,than a flower,an insect,an elephant they also r seperate,what r they made up of? five elements, so this 5 elements dissolve in itself,do we call it a death?

there is not much difference between a good night sleep and death.the little difference is after a night sleep, we remeber our previous day,but after death, we change the old ,worn out instrument to a new one to fulfill the desires it died with,so we have to rejoice. but there is another higher way of dying, is to b just desireless, and you become eternal.ajar,amar,satchitanand.

On Oct 16, 2006 cody wrote:
Oh my when you speak about death ,i really get scared ,knowing and thinking i can also die at any time. but the question i always ask myself is, when death comes will i be ready for it? many times i get an answer of NO! an thats makes me live responsibly now coz now realise the last day of living.

On Oct 13, 2006 Thirima F. wrote:
Life is a mystery if one is afraid of death,but once you accept that we don't know the time of death and embrace this,Life becomes a celebration.

On Oct 13, 2006 Cletus Zuzarte wrote:
Yes! the thought and reflection on Death makes me once again commitment myself to the business of living life with integrity and making a difference!

On Oct 12, 2006 moggs wrote:
I think about death on a daily basis. During the day, when I think about it, it is hard to wrap my brain around the fact that one day, quite like the one I am it, it really come for me and those around me. At night, it is a different story. I frequently wake up in the middle of the night with the most clear sensation and awareness of what being alive really means and somehow in this lucid moment I can grasp, that this life, all that we know, will come to an end. The fear and sadness that used to accompany this moment in the beginning has faded, and now it is like a strong cup of coffee in the morning - it wakes me up inside to what is real. It isn't anything in the material world, including our personalities and possessions. It is the invisible space, the voice that only I can hear, my only true companion in this life that knows the truth.

On Oct 12, 2006 Prafulla wrote:
Nice insight Pavi good going!!!

coming to Oliver's poem this is the first time i ever came across her poem.. all i can say is wonderful ... 10/10

whats next is my question... ok i dont want to just visit this world i want to make a difference and this is one thing that runs in my mind every night i go to bed before i thank God because i feel that everyone is born on purpose
so how does one realise that purpose...

I may be wrong i amy be right...

On Oct 6, 2006 pavi wrote:

Thoughts from Wednesday's Circle: *A couple of my own thoughts- i thought it was quite an interesting poem. The title is unusual. To me death is always inspring. It takes me to the importance or non importance of what I'm doing in the present moment. A few years ago we had a retreat with a Tibetan nun on death and dying. One of the neat things about it- she shared that if you really want to prepare to die then you have to really start to live. This concept of living in each moment giving rise to dying in each moment being inextricably connected. A Zen monk was here a few years ago and someone asked him what would you do if you had 15 minutes left to live and without missing a beat he said-- well whats wrong with this? This reflection lifts you up out of whatever myopic view you are stuck in at the moment. Someone asked a sage what he thought the most intriguing thing was about the human condition. He said all around us we see death and decay and impermanence but we don't believe tha  See full.

Thoughts from Wednesday's Circle: *A couple of my own thoughts- i thought it was quite an interesting poem. The title is unusual. To me death is always inspring. It takes me to the importance or non importance of what I'm doing in the present moment. A few years ago we had a retreat with a Tibetan nun on death and dying. One of the neat things about it- she shared that if you really want to prepare to die then you have to really start to live. This concept of living in each moment giving rise to dying in each moment being inextricably connected. A Zen monk was here a few years ago and someone asked him what would you do if you had 15 minutes left to live and without missing a beat he said-- well whats wrong with this? This reflection lifts you up out of whatever myopic view you are stuck in at the moment. Someone asked a sage what he thought the most intriguing thing was about the human condition. He said all around us we see death and decay and impermanence but we don't believe that that is going to happen to us. To me it is empowering becuase it says when death comes are you going to embrace it or are other things going to come up to the surface? At my workplace cafeteria this week I saw a couple of co-workers who I might not otherwise have had lunch with and we had a really open conversation. Talked about Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning where he reflects on experience in a concentration camp- "No one can take away Man's last freedom- the freedom to choose his attitude in any given circumstance" and this person at lunch says do you read a lot of this kind of stuff? And I said yeah I do- I'm interested in the inner experience. And he says- I'm scared of what is going to be there within. I find myself oriented that way too but I'm scared. And then we talked about how there is both light and dark within us, and by embracing it we have the power to transform it. *I just really like this poem like most of Mary Oliver's stuff she gets something really phenomenal out of the tiniest stuff- I can actually understand her. This particular poem I really liked-- when I think of death I think of life and when I'm thinking of life why we're here I automatically think of death. I liked the couple of lines where she talks about time an idea eternity another possibility. It reminded me of a time when I was on top of a hill at night and saw all these houses, lights, people and it was the first time it occured to me that there were so many people going through the same thing-- I wasn't the center of the universe. It's a nice way of thinking of what our purpose is and what we want to spend our life doing. The last line-- she doesn't want to simply have visted-- she talks about really embracing life and really being that way with death-- I feel like she is so involved and at the same time detached from it and I think to me the poem really talks about being alive in life. For me when I am in those moments of that pure space things sort of connect and there is a subtle universe that helps you towards the right path -- more moments in that time make me feel like I'm not just visiting. *I guess Death makes you think-- don't get too attached to things in this world. Gandhi used to say-- Renounce and Enjoy. Thinking of death makes it easier. *This poem was a good kick-in-the-butt reminder and a hug at the same time. Thanks. *Death can really remind us what is really important. *Death is certainly a reminder to engage so you can participate in life and I think that's what she's saying. Engage in the present moment and embrace what comes along. It also struck me -- how patterns and habits can take us away from being engaged but if you're really happy doing what you're doing then you're in the present moment all the time. *A couple of years ago I was really sick and I remember being at a train station with my brother and sister-in-law and we were talking and suddenly I felt so tired I had to look away from them-- it was something that I realized that it took a lot of energy for me to listen and I think sometimes we go into these patterns because we don't want to expend that energy. *When one foot is walking the other foot is resting. *When I think of Death I tend to check myself if what I'm doing is on the right track because Death is kind of a reminder that time is running out and when I reflected on what is the right thing I came up with one most important thing-- of course everyone says being in the moment- but being in the moment and doing what? The emphasis that I came up with was relationship. The duality concept is essentially helping you enjoy relationships with everyone- the entire universe- trees etc you can enjoy relationship if you spend your time thinking positively and spend your time to enjoy the relationships then when Death comes you will have fully enjoyed the relationships and the instrument life you have made the full use of it. *Last couple of days I was having thoughts of killing rats in my backyard I have been growing tomatos and rats have been eating them so I have been debating how I am going to do this and I even bought rat poison but couldn't quite put it out there and this is what came to me. *I was reading this book- a zen student asks master what happens after a person dies and the master says I don't know. But you're a master. Yes he says but not a dead one :-) I was reading Wilbur's Grace and Grit- he says if one gets a disease it's an illness with a specific nature that will take its course and then there is something called sickness which is something that we invent- the meaning we attach to the illness. And sometimes the effect of the meaning is far more than the illness itself. How a culture views illness decides a lot about what that illness does to the person. Everybody is going to die that's a fact. The meaning I associate with it my conditioning and culture- is where I think the problem is instead if I don't attach any meaning to it and live with whatever it is then I think there is no chance for it doing something to me. It becomes something that helps me grow. Recently we just had a boy baby and one of our friends who came to our Lamaze class this other couple they lost their baby during the birth. No comfort that we could offer. Read a book that had ten things that one shouldn't say to such a couple. The only thing to do is be there. Which kind of hit home for me that it is not possible to not have sadness associated with death but the thing is to not have a story attached to it. So whether it is life or death pleasure or pain without a story if I just experience it... *Life is basically a fatal disease. When somebody comes up with a diagnosis of cancer all it does is brings that persons awareness to yes indeed it's coming soon. It's coming one way or another whether you know it or not. At every moment you are already dying. It's not just the moment of last breath. You compare it to a saw that is cutting wood and when the two pieces are separated that's the last stroke. We have to improve every moment to improve the last moment. *I think when I think about embracing death what's difficult is it's about embracing the death of people around me and that feels very difficult to embrace. *Years ago I was on a retreat and I had a sign that I was going to die and I was convinced it was happening and I was relatively okay with it. And then I thought how are my parents going to feel? And I started to cry these tears of feeling for other people that were going to experience this. *It's ironic- at our work we deal with patients who die all the time and it evokes fear in me to acknowledge that there will be death for everyone...made me think of a book called pathways for the heart. People think about have I lived fully have I learned to love and let go? Things come to light through the process of death. It brings the most important things up. *When I got the quote it got me thinking- and I started building a really pretty picture of how I would face death and then I looked back to see if there is a pattern on how I react when death knocks-- and I was looking for a a pattern and it wasn't there each time it was different and it covered the spectrum from graceful to disgraceful-- there was one time when I was so terrified- there was another situation so ridiculous that we were laughing and there was another time when I thought I had a few moments left to live and felt a wonderful sense of peace and said something to the effect of this is it I guess. So next time I'm not sure where I'll be. I never quite thought I would live to this age so it's a very liberating feeling. I grew up in a war- all these experiences happened to me before I turned 13. *I guess I am blessed because I think until I was thirty something I was experiencing immortality. Why talk about death-- but these last few years I've been negotiating with it- it reminds me of Kabir he talks about death - he says you're going through life but at the time of death don't say you're not ready. In his poetry he talks about a girl going to her in laws place- the son in law is called the king of death. And the mother of the daughter says don't take her now come again later. I love that poem- she ultimately ends up going with the son-in-law and I think when I go I would like to go that way with the blessings of all those close to me. *I have a huge double standard when it comes to death- I don't think it's something that needs to be feared I have a lot of curiousity-- but unfortunately I can't extend that to those I care about. Something that you said earlier rings true - my dad died 11 years ago- visited his grave recently. I still have moments when it doesn't feel real to me. A kind of denial and acceptance at once. *I was once in a car that spun out of control- I remember feeling terrified and I think the feeling that I had of losing control was because at that point in my life I felt disconnected from my purpose and I felt if I went then no one I loved would know that I loved them. Two weeks later I was on a plane moving to another country and in preparation for that I had talked and touched base with so many people close to me and could feel a much deeper connection. So on the plane there was some really significant turbulence-- and it didn't bother me- and I thought how weird because this is the ultimate lack of control I'm not even at the wheel but I felt like-- here I go- and I was fine with that. *There is a power within that knows beyond our knowings. We are greater than are thoughts. And sometimes earth unveils that vision here. To live, to love are signs of infinite things. *Thinking about death- reading this title I was expecting to have these heavy dark feelings of sorrow but when I read it it was much more uplifting and the imagery of it struck me in a positive way. When I was younger I think maybe just five or six I felt this awareness of death and I remember looking at this donald duck stuffed animal and crying all day and my uncle told me oh you have your whole life to live-- I thought by focusing on living that was an escape from death- I didn't see the connection. The idea of existentialism- death reminds me of that philosophy of seizing your life not letting things slip away. Focusing on relationships- as a way of living and embracing death- when you feel intense love or a state of bliss that's when I think you can embrace death *First I thought- I don;t want to talk about death-- my first face to face with death was when my father passed away and it's constant denial like it still hasn't happened but when my father in law passed away I had to explain to my young sons what was death and their first question was what is death what does it mean and at that time the first thought that came to mind was that it was like changing clothes -- you don't get to see him again and then I realized that I hadn't realized this when my father passed away but when I was explaining to them I had the responsibility to make sure they didn't have fear around it. Talking to a woman recently who had a baby we started to talk about death and she said why talk about death? In my financial world Death and taxes are certain. I wish I could think about death as often as I think about taxes. This poem brought a lot of beauty into it. *Redwood trees are 99% dead.

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On Oct 6, 2006 yemi wrote:
i love it this

On Oct 4, 2006 Rekha wrote:
I loved it and it was as though someone spoke my heart out aloud!!

Life is a wonder every moment, and I will live it every moment ...

My only prayer to the universe is to bring me back again & again to the present moment ...
Let me not falter from the now and live it fully & completely so that when the groom is here, I am ever ready...
waiting every moment to leave ....
and yet enjoying the stay now to the fullest ...