Joan Poelvoorde

Psychotherapy & Healing Arts

Writings on Death

Self-awareness is a supreme gift, a treasure as precious as life itself. This is what makes us human. But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and, inevitably, diminish and die.

Irvin D. Yalom
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death
Jossey-Bass, 2008

Over all the hilltops
Silence,
Among all the treetops
You feel hardly a breath moving.
The birds fall silent in the woods. Simply wait! Soon
You too will be silent.

Johan Wolfgang von Goethe


We come but to sleep,
we come but to dream:
It is not true, it is not true
that we come to live upon the earth.
Like the grass each spring
we are transformed:
our hearts grow green,
put forth their shoots.
Our body is a flower: it blossoms
And then it withers.

Netzahualcoyotl
The Aztec poet-king of Texococo, 13th Century

When I die of my skull make a cup
When you thirst, drink of me
The dust on your lips
Is a kiss from your lover

Anonymous
19th Century Mexican

The "they" gives its approval, and aggravates the temptation to cover up from oneself one's ownmost Being-towards-death. This evasive concealment in the face of death dominates everydayness so stubbornly that, in Being with one another, the "neighbours" often still keep talking the "dying person" into the belief that he will escape death and soon return to the tranquillized everydayness of the world of his concern. Such "solicitude" is meant to "console" him.

It insists upon bringing him back into Dasein [the entity which each of us is and which includes inquiring as part of its nature, literally, "being-there"], while in addition it helps him to keep his ownmost non-relational possibility-of-Being completely concealed.

In this manner the "they" provides a constant tranquilization about death, not only for him who is "dying" but just as much for those who "console" him …

The "they" does not permit us the courage for anxiety in the face of death … In anxiety in the face of death, Dasein is brought face-to-face with itself as delivered over to that possibility which is not to be outstripped.

Martin Heidegger
Being and Time
Harper and Row, New York, 1962

N takes out a CD saying, "Whenever I listen to the first Brandenberg Concerto, I am reminded of the Fool of the Tarot deck."

The music begins. I go to the fireplace, raising my hands in an attitude of awe. Thus begins the life journey of the Fool. He begins on a dusty road, dressed for travel and adventure. He carries his belongings on a stick. He seems happy, anticipating the life ahead of him.

The Fool makes a turn down a road to the left. There he meets a young woman and falls in love with her. He leaves with love and awe, taking up his journey again. At the next left, the Fool becomes an athlete and is given great awards and honors. All of this he accepts with his signature attitude of awe, His next turning takes him to a battlefield—metallic and brutal. There are mutilated bodies of the war dead.

The Fool looks, and loses his sense of awe, his eye sockets are burned out, and he lines them with tin to preserve them. [I take this to mean that I am unprepared to look on the world of suffering and death. I see this as my work and pursue it relentlessly thereafter.]

At the next juncture he meets a woman, marries her, and has a family. He is praised as an exemplary husband and father. He receives these accolades in the same attitude of awe. In the years that follow, he becomes a statesman, honored by all. Again he receives these honors with awe. No ego. Only awe.

As the Fool begins to age, he moves toward his death. At the moment of his death, he stands at the edge of life, steps across the threshold, through the gray wall of energy into the realm of death—with awe—no fear. Only awe.

Joan Poelvoorde

It is a beautiful Michigan summer afternoon. I am riding in a sports car with two male friends. I notice that we are near the Michigan State Fairgrounds. I am excited and suggest we stop as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performs here in the summer. I hear the beginning strains of The Firebird. They draw me in.

I find myself at the foot of a modern pyramid which is designed very much like the ancient Mexican pyramids. I climb to the top. At the top is a large square of grass surrounded by a sidewalk. I lie down in the grass, listening to the music.

Nuns, visible only from the waist down, are walking around the square, their rosary beads clicking at their sides. The finale begins. I get up and walk down four steps to a landing. I wait, not turning. "Are you there, Death?" I ask.

Death comes from behind me, a tall man in voluminous gray robes. I look at his face. His features are not explicit. I tell Death that I will wait until he has a face. I give him time. There is some confusion about whether he accomplishes a face or not. He wraps me in his great gray robes, and we fly ecstatically through space to the finale of The Firebird.

Joan Poelvoorde

If death can fly, just for the love of flying, What might not life do, for the love of dying?

Malcolm Lowry

Joan Poelvoorde, a professional psychotherapist in Manhattan (NY) offering relationship, personal growth, anger management, creativity, shamanistic & Imago Relationship Therapy