Rehearsal for Dying

When all your desires are distilled
You will cast just two votes:
To love more.
And be happy.

Last Minute Diaper Laundering, Casey Deane, 1995

I remember the morning childbirth took me by surprise. My water broke just before sunrise, and my contractions came on strong–5 minutes apart.  No turning back.

Obviously, I knew my time coming; but I wasn’t due for another 2 weeks; and I had expected my first to be late. I felt robbed of time. And it didn’t matter that the diapers weren’t laundered and the meals weren’t frozen and my young nephew was here for a visit. Time was up.

I imagine death appears in the same way.

Too early.

Before we’re ready.

Without reasonable negotiation.

When I think back on labor, I dread the work of dying, knowing that it can last days, months, even years.

“Maybe you’ll die in an instant,” my husband suggests.

I think about that, but I’m not sure that this would be any easier.

I remember the moment when I almost died that quickly. In London. My junior year abroad.

I decided to walk across the city up to Hampstead rather than take the Tube.

I tripped.

Into an intersection.

With oncoming traffic.

I saw the cars that would crush me.

I watched the motorcycle rushing toward my head.

I wasn’t afraid.

I was simply… aware.

When I got up, and dusted off my pants, and picked up my Walkman, I was stunned–by the miracle of life–and the immediacy of death.

My fist still clenched a Kit Kat.

I sometimes experience  illness–as a “rehearsal for dying”–but sometimes we don’t get a rehearsal. My grandmother didn’t.  She was in the breakdown lane with her 3 best friends when that sixteen-wheeler came upon them.

Now that I’m approaching 50, I’m beginning to sense that aging itself is a vehicle of preparation, with its constant dance of resistance and surrender…

Holding on.

Letting go.

“I don’t want this.”


Though my body is clearly rocking its way toward ending, I can’t believe that “I’m” not forever. That my children aren’t. That this family which feels absolutely timeless isn’t. That the baby who took me by surprise is 17. That our days together are numbered–in yet another rehearsal for that final parting.

It always strikes me that flesh and blood and all the rich matter of emotion and story that makes up a life can be gone in a instant, while my mother’s zebra striped Emory board, which she probably picked up at the dollar store, is still around, a dozen years after her early death.

It’s those kind of thoughts which led me to the book, A Year To Live.

It’s not a book about dying.  It’s a book about living–as if we were dying–because of course we are.

From time to time, I place this book by my bedside, but the bookmark hasn’t moved very far in a decade.

I guess I prefer to live as if life is forever, as if bills and homework and calendars trump death.

As if I can wait for another day to live like I was dying.

As if this rehearsal  never ends.

Kelly Salasin, June 2012

3 thoughts on “Rehearsal for Dying

  1. Thank you for this. For your writing and the way you were able to weave immediacy into this narrative.


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