Three Deaths

September 28, 2019

“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.” ~Lilly Tomlin

Last spring, during my Scotland tour, I had a spontaneous dialogue about death with a local woman. You know, those light and frothy kind of conversations. She had lost a sister in a car accident. I was grieving a dear friend back home who was actively dying. We both knew this about each other in advance, likely through her mother and/or being Facebook friends. But this day we happened to be strolling about the sacred isle of Iona off Scotland’s southwest shores. I was captivated by the massive and ornate Iona Abbey, and even more so by the “Street of the Dead” that led from the abbey to the nearby burial ground. For over 1,400 years, I wondered how many living people had carried the dead on this road towards their final resting place. Aloud, I said to my friend, “If these stones could talk, I wonder what they’d tell us about death.” Her reply rocked my world. She thought it originated in South America somewhere. (I’ve since read that it’s a Mexican saying.)

“There are three deaths.

  • The first is when you realize that you are immortal, that you will die one day.
  • The second is when the physical body stops functioning. The literal death we will all experience.
  • The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

I literally stopped in my tracks. Knowing me, I likely gasped, “Say, what?” The notion of a point in time when my name is spoken for the last time!!!. Unless you are famous, or infamous, there will be a time when someone says your name again. What feeling does that trigger in you?

At first, I felt kind of sad. Like my life would be meaningless unless I had an active legacy that would require people to say my name. But the more I thought about it, the less personal it became.

I wonder if this is why, when I’m in old cemeteries, I like to say aloud the names of the deceased. Maybe this is why in many women’s circles we say our names, followed by the names of our mothers and grandmothers. I think of Aho Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota statement that means “all my relations,” honoring all of the praying one’s ancestors, living and dead.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the “three deaths.” What does it mean to you if your name is never spoken again? Or the name of a loved one you’ve already lost? If I get enough responses (brief and succinct, please) I will compile them and circulate. Let the dialogue continue.

Leave a Comment