So it goes.
I first heard this idea of “the 3 deaths” from my Mum, just after the death of her father. She’d heard it on a podcast, and it stuck with her. I remember her telling me about it during a hike in the woods, and she repeated the sentiment at his graveside ceremony, surrounded by our extended family. I found the original source, in a wonderful book called Sum, by neuroscientist-by-day-and-fiction-writer-by-night David Eagleman.
The idea behind the story is that you and me and everyone…we actually die three times. We die the first time when our breath leaves our body. We die the second time when our loved ones return our body to the ground. And the third death, and final death, is a moment, sometime in the future, when our name is spoken for the last time.
I’ve been brooding and reflecting on this idea since my Mum shared it with me. I’ve talked about it with colleagues and presented it at conferences in workshops as a part of legacy fundraising. In our work, we have the beautiful privilege of extending the third death. Because, for many years after our legacy donors are gone, their name is spoken in conversations and stories when we talk about the remarkable, loving, caring people who have remembered our organization in their will and we have been able to do important, transformative, amazing things with their generosity.
And then just a few weeks ago, my courageous friend Teva Harrison posted this on Twitter:
#whyiwriteso when I die, not all of my private, delicious (or awkward or confusing) thoughts and memories will vanish forever. I’ll admit, I also hope to linger in others’ memories. At least for a while. #thanks3AM #cancerlife#legacy #dontignorestage4 #lifer
Teva is living with metastatic breast cancer and through her spectacular book, In Between Days, and her continued writing and other phenomenal artistic endeavors, she expresses to me what the 3 deaths means in our daily lives. Every single day, we can choose to be in the moment, with an open heart, and use our energy for the people and the experiences that will be part of our life story. And, by doing that, we are extending our own third lives and also living the truest, loveliest and most joyful version of today.