he’s not dying, only living more truly

Photo: Mike Visagie © www.mikevisagie.com

Photo: Mike Visagie © http://www.mikevisagie.com

There is a well-known Sufi saying which goes ” die before you die.”

How to make sense of this? I believe when we die, we leave behind only what we no longer need. We let go of this narrow earthly reality and go on to live in the wider truth of the spiritual world.  So too in life, if we can die to all that keeps us small and caged, die to our clever distractions keeping us from living purposefully, we might live the broader life our hearts and souls most long for.

I write this in tribute to my courageous 26 year old nephew who left us 3 days ago after a 5 year long struggle with  bone cancer, surviving numerous operations, gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment, an amputation of his shoulder and arm earlier this year, as well as a lifetime of profound deafness.

Despite tremendous discomfort, pain and ultimately a ravaged body, he met his life and what it brought him without flinching or self-pity, only open-eyed acceptance and steadfast clarity.  He was an extraordinary beautiful young man who was able to discern and set aside immediately all that was irrelevant and be guided only by where love took him, squeezing every drop of joyous juice he could out of his life to its fullest until his very last moment.

And then he flew.

When someone close is gravely ill or dying, something inside us softens and we’re able to say and do things we might shy away from otherwise.  How much more inclined we are to be gentle with one another, to say thank you,  I’m sorry, forgive me and I love you when we have a dying loved one in our midst.  We can more easily admit: I’m in pain. I’m in a difficult place. This is not easy. Please help me.  even as the dying have no other option but to be undeniably honest about what is happening in their lives.

As we draw together, our hearts rise to the surface of our lives instead of being walled away and armoured and for a short time we can tell the truth about ourselves.   Suddenly certain things no longer matter as much, things we felt strongly about before – our dignity perhaps, our pride, being right or nursing our grievances.  Our priorities change and everything unimportant falls away.  Being there and present for the dying person becomes paramount and we value above all else what we can now be least certain of: the life of the beloved person who is leaving us.

This is the gift of death and dying.  It strips us bare and brings us to our truth in a way little else can. Grief makes us honest.

Some weeks ago I wrote my nephew a letter which I am grateful he was able to receive in full consciousness. It may give a brief glimpse into the man he was and always will be as he lives on in my memory.

Dearest Keagan, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, facing what your life is now.  Nor do I have any idea if you’re about to leave this world or not. 

Miracles are always possibilities we haven’t yet believed in until they happen. 

What I do know is that when you go, you will do so whole. When I think of you, it’s as if your physical body fades and I see the essence of you. It is one of the many qualities I have always noticed  and been drawn to in you, the way your spirit shines through, never more so than lately. 

I guess it’s usual to think of your deafness as a handicap, a barrier to communications in the normal world.  But I think deafness can also remove a barrier between you and others.  You aren’t distracted  by how people present themselves through the words they wear.  Instead you see people as they are being.  I believe this is the gift you give to people around you – you see them truly. You aren’t deflected by the stories they tell about themselves, you just see them in a very pure way. That’s a powerfully attractive quality to have and why you are loved by so many.  While others get caught up in each other’s speeches,  you touch people with a generosity of feeling in a way not possible with words. That’s been my experience of you. 

I’m not wanting to diminish the tremendous difficulties you struggle with.     I know these are real too. 

When you were with us some years ago, I wrote a short poem about you and your mother.  Actually, it’s not so much a poem as a direct quote of your words which you sent her via text.  It’s called WHAT MATTERS, because it seemed to me then already that you had caught on to what’s important about life, both in the large awe-inspiring seriousness of it as well as the small wonder of it.  Here it is:   


Finally she had to leave him for the night. 

She left him in the hospital with 

her love
the cancer
some fruit 

And he sent back a message 

thank you
the pear
so delicious

You see, in choosing to savour  that one small precious moment in the face of so much else, you showed yourself able to live fully in the vast and splendid mystery of life.    I love that about you. The truth is we’re all on the same journey you’re on Keagan.  You bring our awareness to it so that we might learn to live as truly as you do now, to find out what matters.

It is the work of heartbreak to soften our edges, break us open. We need only allow our hearts to be broken. There is true purpose in that.

15 thoughts on “he’s not dying, only living more truly

  1. Nina, I am so very sorry for your loss. I felt that your post had some very necessary thoughts and that you somehow turned this tragedy into something meaningful for us (me!) as your reader(s).

    “we leave behind only what we no longer need. We let go of this narrow earthly reality and go on to live in the wider truth of the spiritual world. So too in life, if we can die to all that keeps us small and caged, die to our clever distractions keeping us from living purposefully, we might live the broader life our hearts and souls most long for.”

    This really made me think of value-based living. That when we sit and are truly honest about our values and take intentional small, and large steps toward them, we live a more authentic and satisfying life–more in tune with ourselves and more intimate with our loved ones. It is so important in this process to do exactly what you mentioned above–to let go of the narrow, the imposed, the “shoulds”, the “everyone else is…”, the anesthetizing distractions/purchases, the draining relationships, the “doing is better than being”. So difficult. But as you have articulated, we only get this one, amazing life, and we better get to it with intention, honesty, and values (paraphrasing mine)–being mindful to nourish the spiritual–the intangible ongoing.

    Thank you for sharing Nina.


    • I love how you have articulated this Cassandra, how you ‘get’ what I’m saying and most of all, I see – through your own writing – how mindfully you travel this path, this ‘intangible ongoing’. Thank you for being here.


      • so happy to hear from you–and that you have another post up! I was just telling Partner Dylan last night, “i am worried about nina in South Africa. her nephew past away and she has been radio silent for a couple of weeks.” I was about to jot you an email to say hi and to see how things were going 🙂 Will look forward to reading the new post! Elephants! I am in love already. — Cassandra


  2. Lovely tribute Nina. My Hindu friends talk of our lives as a journey towards light, urging us to live in light , to take light into the light, carrying no darkness with us as we leave. I love this – and with this in mind, I think also on what Mandy says when she talks of practicing dying daily through whichever way ones particular belief system leads us, ” trying to merge with God daily ” , turning our negative thoughts on physical death into positive thoughts on our merging with God, the universe, the creator, ” whatever we believe it is ” as we leave, thereby, if we can achieve this, making death ” a breeze – delicious, like the pear!”


  3. “our hearts rise to the surface of our lives instead of being walled away and armoured” – So many thoughts/emotions/wishes for and about you, your loss, this piece… Words fall short. A silence within me for you. ~ Long distance hug… ~ Bill


  4. This brought tears to my eyes. Sorry for your loss Nina. Keagan sounded like an amazing human being, sent to earth to teach others. As for dying before you die, I believe it is about practicing merging with the creator while still in the physical form. Depending on what belief system one follows determines how one achieves this – for myself, meditation, to calm the mind and focus on the inner God, the spirit within. And then also ones daily life – the hardest to achieve – by letting go of clinging to possessions, people, opinions etc and just allowing life to flow without detrimental attachment. By trying to merge with God daily (dying while living, because when we die we ultimately merge with God, the creator, the universe, or whatever we believe it is), we are practicing dying daily, just not in the negative way we think of death. I think if one can achieve this (I am still battling to do it, my words are just my hope not my accomplishment yet!), then the actual time of physical death is a breeze and not so scary. Delicious, like the pear! Thanks again for yet another beautiful story.


    • Mandy, thank you for your lovely response here – and you have expanded so beautifully on this theme of “dying before you die” – I think you’ve really named it when you say “practicing dying daily”…


Share your thoughts on this post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s