Death has cultural taboos associated with it. It is not usually the subject of enlivening conversation. Chris Glaser describes death as The Final Deadline. In his new book he names and explores how the many forms of death we experience are invitations to life in the now. Join us in exploring how death invites us to stop putting life off.
Robert: In The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me About Life you invite us to name the deaths we experience in the many spheres of our lives. You seem to be giving us permission to accept the invitation to a life-changing conversation.
Chris: You’ve got that right! In this first question you show great understanding of my intent. I’m trying to open the conversation that will help all of us find how various deaths have shaped our souls—who we are and who we want to be. It’s also a way of honoring those who have gone before us, leading our way.
Robert: In the current economic meltdown many people have experienced death and loss through becoming unemployed. For many, it is more than just the death of losing a job but also the loss of part of their identity and of a collegial network. What hope or learning does your book offer the reader?
Chris: In the chapter entitled, “Death Made Personal,” I describe a death I experienced in relation to my own vocation—the lack of opportunity, the limits imposed, the loss of colleagues, former and potential. Both being unemployed or being underemployed (an often overlooked “death”) can wreak havoc on a person’s self-worth. I found I needed as many spiritual and personal resources as I could gather to survive, to know I was still useful and yes, lovable. Without the experience, however, I might not have had the opportunity (shall I say “urgency”?) to write!
Robert: Your very personal stories about different experiences of death are compelling. Was there any one experience that led you to offer your wisdom and insight to having this conversation with readers?
Chris: Perhaps it was the preponderance of deaths that I’ve experienced that was my “wake up call.” Every death reminded me that I’ve got to start living NOW, which means finding fulfilling work, opportunities, and experiences. It’s not about finding pleasure alone, but about writer Frederick Buechner’s concept of true vocation being where your greatest joy meets the world’s deepest need.
In the chapter “Death by Plague,” which describes friends lost to AIDS, I tell of feeling “out of community” when I tested HIV-negative, as if I had abandoned my gay brothers. An HIV-positive friend responded with the challenge, “No, you need to survive to tell our story.” This became true of all those in the book, not just those who died of AIDS.
Robert: You write about The Final Deadline as an invitation to embrace and be embraced by life in the now, in the present. What surprises have you discovered in your own final deadlines?
Chris: That I have the power, the resources, the stamina to make it. There were points in my life when “One day at a time” seemed too big a chunk for me. My mantra became “One thing at a time”: okay, I’ve done this, now I can do this, etc. Deadlines can prompt enormous creativity and quick thinking. My brother once commented that having a job as a student was a good thing, because with limited time, one becomes more adept at using time wisely. I think that’s true. I also believe in placing deadlines before actual deadlines—a personal deadline prompts finishing a project before it is actually due, but then gives time to leave it in the computer for a period—even if only overnight—for further reflection and development, giving opportunity for a wiser response.
Robert: We’ve each known deaths that bring on what seems like inconsolable grief, or, that leave us feeling utterly bereft. Our authenticity about what we feel is a vital part of allowing us to journey towards new life and hope. In those moments we unexpectedly think about how we will live.
Chris: Yes, that’s right. It also provokes us to savor our memories and reach out to others. None of us have to face grief alone, though there are times when only we know what we’re going through. People around us do best by giving us space to cry out. When I euthanized my dog, I wailed like a banshee and threw my body on his corpse. Think how helpful that might be if we could respond so honestly with every death.
Robert: Our journey repeatedly engages us in the question of “Who am I here to be.” I’m not an advocate of misery or suffering as a way of being yet my experience is that experiences of death wake me up to life itself. I’m struck by the joy and delight that you discover by living authentically with such questions.
Chris: Readers might be afraid that my book would be too painful or sad to read, but in fact, both to write it and to read it prove occasions to embrace life—its profundity and awesomeness, as well as its pleasure and humor and serendipity.
Robert: I love your reminder that fear of death leads to many personal and social ills. What wisdom would you offer to the person who is not fearful of working through a death of some kind but who is fearful of where it will lead her or him?
Chris: What wisdom would I offer? The wisdom of people around you whom you trust, whether friends, family, spiritual guide, therapist, spiritual community, or pet. Consult your heart, but also consult the hearts of those who love you, respect you, and will be there for you. This balance is needed, especially in the throes of grief. I dedicated my next book to three who saw me through such a fearful time.
Robert: Your compassion towards yourself and others radiates from the pages of this book. There is a loving tenderness to the conversation that you invite readers into. What grounds and sustains you on this road to all that matters – love and compassion!
Chris: Thank you! That’s kind! What grounds me is the love and compassion that I have received from my parents to my partner, and all those friends in between. Even more so, the unconditional love and absolute compassion I experience during my morning prayers. Death has above all taught me gratitude for all that God has to offer.
Robert: In the face of despair and uncertainty your stories are filled with abundant hope and a certainty that life beckons us to become more fully alive. It feels like a blessing of encouragement.
Chris: Coming from you, Robert that means a lot— because that’s what your life and work is all about. May all come to such a place of hope. Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my book.
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Order Chris’ new book The Final Deadline by going to the Resource Page
Robert and Chris will be co-leading a retreat November 10 – 13, 2011 – Gratitude in Three Movements – at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania. Register on the Kirkridge website