When I die

July 13th, 2012 § 62 comments

When I die don’t think you’ve “lost” me.

I’ll be right there with you, living on in the memories we have made.

When I die don’t say I “fought a battle.” Or “lost a battle.” Or “succumbed.”

Don’t make it sound like I didn’t try hard enough, or have the right attitude, or that I simply gave up.


When I die don’t say I “passed.”

That sounds like I walked by you in the corridor at school.


When I die tell the world what happened.

Plain and simple.

No euphemisms, no flowery language, no metaphors.


Instead, remember me and let my words live on.

Tell stories of something good I did.

Give my children a kind word. Let them know what they meant to me. That I would have stayed forever if I could.

Don’t try to comfort my children by telling them I’m an angel watching over them from heaven or that I’m in a better place:

There is no better place to me than being here with them.


They have learned about grief and they will learn more.

That is part of it all.


When I die someday just tell the truth:

I lived, I died.

The end.

Tagged ,

§ 62 Responses to When I die"

  • Marisa says:

    Poetically beautiful truth.

  • That says it all. Thanks so much, Lisa…

    Heather x

  • Wonderfully written and beautifully well said.

  • Greg says:

    Somebody who writes or speaks the truth? Hmmmmmm. Is there something wrong with you?

    I am so glad I have known you for 25+ years and that we have again crossed paths.

  • Becky says:

    Wonderful my sweet friend.
    Such a poetic prose of death and living.

  • I admire you for the words you wrote. I admire your humility and your courage and most of all I admire you for being real about life and death. I thank you.

  • Ellen says:

    I am so impressed by your bravery to share, Lisa. This touches me in so many ways. The most painful (and the best) being an insight into how my own mom might have felt being diagnosed with cancer and having young children.

  • AmyG35 says:

    I will be writing a sympathy card for a colleague whose 29 year old son just died. (I wanted to say passed away– how easily the flowery language wants to take over.) Thank you for your thoughts, which will help me know what to write.

  • jo miller says:

    this is a rare, exquisite, riveting moment of truth, leaving much to reflect upon. thank you for this post. I believe these words will become a part of me and my responses. xo

  • Cait says:

    I can’t think of anything to say that would do this justice.


  • AnneMarie says:

    Beautiful. Nothing else to say. Just: Beautiful.

  • Raja says:

    So very true …beautifully said

  • Sharon Majek says:

    I saw your blog on Facebook through my friend Sara Diana Williams who has also been receiving treatment for breast cancer. I read this page with a certain amount of trepidation, as I am a real cry baby, but this page really uplifted me! Thank you. I suffer with quite a few illnesses, none of which are life threatening, and every day is a struggle, but I try to keep positive. Every once in a while I have a day where I ‘hit the brick wall’ and I have to give in and do nothing, I had that day yesterday! I always feel like I have wasted a day of my life when this happens, but I also know that I have to do what my body is telling me! Thank you for making me feel better today, for making me realise that my life is not so bad, for making me grateful for every day I have with my family and friends. I hope that you will be with your family for many years to come.

  • Lisa,
    This post makes me cry. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity. I love it. And I completely agree with your message.

  • Well said. I agree, especially about “lost.” Since James died, so many women say something to me about “losing my husband.” I didn’t lose him. He died of cardiac arrest.

  • Sharon Martinelli says:

    Lisa, I love this piece and it resonates with every fiber within me. For some time I have been requesting that my obituary say just “she came, she died, the end” and then one day in the recent past I changed it to “she came, she left, she lingers in the memories”. I makes me feel that the journey has a bit more meaning this way. As I dance with this cancer, pain journey and I dance into my mid sixties I realize that our stories light the way for so many others in so many ways. Your story touches hearts and for that I say thank you.

  • Abbey says:

    Beautiful and eloquent, Lisa. I’ve never been comfortable with all of the euphemisms that surround death or illness. XO

  • Elaine says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Wendi Price says:

    Lisa, I appreciate your opinion on this. I do think we need to be careful, though. While it is true that we often soften death with words like “passed away” or “fought a battle,” I don’t think they are meant to avoid the fact of death. I believe that the latter does not imply the person did anything wrong or gave up. In fact, I see it just the opposite.
    I agree with truth; however, truth is different for each of us. While a common thing to say, I don’t think it is wrong to say someone is in a better place. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us, should we choose to follow Him. There is a beautiful song I love by Jeremy Camp called “There will be a Day.” As he sings, I also believe in “the promise He brings that there will be a place with no more suffering. There will be a day with more more tears, no more pain, no more fears. There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more. We’ll see Jesus face to face.” To me, that is what gets me through the daily challenges of life, the little things and the really big ones. I do believe in angels. I don’t know who they are. My kids never met my dad, but we talk about him being around us and knowing them. It gives them some connection to him. I like to think he is around me as well. If it would comfort my kids when I am gone to believe that I am watching over them, as I expect to be, that I am fine with that. These thoughts are obviously very individual and personal. These are just my thoughts on it….

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Wendi. Perhaps you’ve mistaken the goal of the post. The piece is entitled “When I die” not “When *you* die.” It’s a statement about how I view my own death and how I want my life remembered and explained. I believe we all have a right to believe whatever we like as far as religion goes (or lack thereof). You have every right to explain your own death to your children in any way you want, and I support that. But again, this piece is called “When I die,” and in that, anything goes… and others should respect it.

      Here I’m not telling you how you should explain it to your children; the piece specifically says “don’t tell MY children.” It’s a personal account of my beliefs, not a prescription for what others should tell their own families. You can believe everything you said in your comment but I don’t want it applied to my life and death. And as you say, since these thoughts are “very individual and personal” I lay out here what I want in my own case (though many others seem to agree).

      As for your support of the phrase “fought a battle,” I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of people like me who have had cancer do not like using war as a metaphor for illness.

      • Wendi Price says:

        Sure, Lisa. I understand that these are YOUR thoughts about YOUR life. Of course you are entitled to them and I absolutely respect them. But by posting it, it does invite comment, correct? Not all will agree. I don’t disagree with everything either. Of course we all have a right to believe what we want. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the “fought a battle” comment. I certainly would take this into consideration in the future. I was merely suggesting that people who use the phrase are likely not intending it to be read this way. So many people choose to say nothing at all to someone who is sick and have no idea what to say when a person has a loved one die for any reason. I think that is partly because they don’t want to offend and worry that it is the wrong thing to say. It’s the reaching out that is the bigger statement to ME rather than the exact words. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted my comments. I don’t do much internet conversation for that reason. I find it too hard to “talk” about big stuff that way. I will add that I was glad to see photos of your family on Facebook for the first time (your daughter and Mike Leedy’s daughter resemble one another. I think they are close in age.) While I am sorry at all you have, and ARE, going through, I am glad you are healthy now. My daughter and I have medical challenges as well and I know how difficult it is, especially as a mom. Take care.

      • Cait says:

        The war metaphor seems to be cancer-specific. I don’t recall ever seeing it applied to any other illness. I found it inappropriate long before I got cancer. Do you have any idea how far back this metaphor has been in use?

    • Laurel Postmus says:

      Thank you so much for this post. Living, dying, and “the end” is not at all comforting to me however it is posed. I find my hope and my families’ in one place and that is in the loving arms of our Saviour Jesus where life just begins afresh. Anyone who is looking for such comfort, it is there for the taking as Jesus died for you so that you could live eternally in heaven. It’s certainly worth asking for! Thanks Wendy for offering a clear alternative:-)

    • I just thought about that too. When i die it is not the end but just the beginning and the best is yet to come!!!!

    • Laurel Postmus says:

      Amen….so true and those are true words of inspiration and the hope that all of us with breast cancer have if we choose to embrace the One who was sent for us. Thank You

  • Wonderful post.

    Although I agree that that metaphors can sometimes obfuscate truth, as a lover of language I think some metaphors reveal it. For me, the word “lost” describes the way I think of death in the sense of creating an absence (although I do not like the war and battle connotations). As an atheist, I do not believe in heaven or an afterlife, but since I became a parent, I find that more than ever before I want to believe in the ability to “look down” on my children after I die.

  • Isn’t it amazing how many somersaults around simple truth people make? for adults and most especially as if euphemism helps children. Thanks for stating what should be obvious so clearly.

  • Carol Sacks says:

    Poignant but also such an important message. Thank you, Lisa, for always saying what should be said.

  • Terri says:

    Absolutely perfect. Thank you. I will be sharing on the Fresh Chapter facebook page because SO many people need to hear these words. Hugs to you.

  • Exquisitely beautiful and poignant…

  • Maria says:

    Thank you Lisa. My mother died two weeks ago and I’ve since heard the “angel” comment a few times. It’s actually quite annoying as it’s based on the assumption that I believe in heaven when I don’t, and neither did Mum.

  • Catherine says:

    Wonderful and direct – thank you so much for sharing this. It’s excellent.

  • Teri says:

    Lisa, your blogpost has been resonating with me for days.

    As you know, last year someone in my life that I loved very deeply died a tragic and violent death. A lot of people have been identifying her in things that naturally occur in life – rainbows, blooming flowers in her favorite color, etc. – and in things people often believe in, like angels and heaven. The phrases, “she is everywhere” and she is always “looking down” are often invoked. And while I don’t doubt that for those who ascribe meaning to those things or those paradigms that there is some type of comfort found, perhaps great comfort, I myself haven’t been successful in attempting to access comfort in those things despite my early attempts. I am learning over time that I find the most comfort when I remember the stories of her life, short though it was, and when I remember the things we talked and laughed about, and the experiences we shared.

    Sometimes I have felt alone in my grief because I cannot (like the others who are grieving her death) derive deep comfort from the “she is everywhere” and “looking down” way of viewing things. Your post in a way let’s me know it’s okay that I find comfort during my grief in a different manner; and I learned that it’s not just okay but also that I am not alone.

  • Ana says:

    I lost my dad to cancer when I was a teenager, and I wish I’d read something like this. The people around me at the time didn’t want to engage with me honestly, only to smother my expressions of grief with euphemisms. I don’t believe in god or an afterlife, and even as I struggled to accept the crushing finality of loss, people coddled me with promises of some hovering dad-spirit. My dad himself never came to terms with the concept of death– just weeks before he died he argued bitterly with our rabbi when asked gently about funeral arrangements. I think that if I’d been able to see death as a fact of life, not a panic-ridden, unspeakable thing, it may have taken me less years to move through grief.

    I know I’m late to respond but just came across this post because of your more recent post about your cancer returning. Cancer is probably about the shittiest luck you can get, but your family is lucky to be going through it with someone like you– courageous enough to face your reality with honesty and grace. Wishing you and yours the best.

  • Wendie says:

    This poem is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    My mom recently died of ovarian cancer. She was young, healthy, and vibrant, and then one day cancer entered her body. It was a horrible illness, and a cruel way to exit the world. Cancer ravaged her body, and she eventually had no choice but to cross the finish line. I miss her every day. She told my 8 year old son a few days before she died that she would be his guardian angel, and I believe she is. He, in turn, told her that he would be with her again some day. I have received some signs that my mom’s spirit lingers, and my entire body is washed over with peace when I get these signs.

    I also do not like the term ‘She lost her battle with cancer’, and yet when I think of all that my mom went through, it was the biggest battle she had ever fought in her life. She did not win, but cancer didn’t win either. When my mom died, every one of those cancer cells died too.

    I do not understand how people cannot believe in some sort of afterlife. Some people’s minds are so closed to the idea; it is depressing. I challenge those people to break down the barriers and pay attention to the miracles all around us. The leaves are turning colour and falling off the trees, and then they will magically return in the spring. This is just one of the miracles we all see every day. If you explained this to a blind man who was never told this happens, he may not believe it.

    Always keep an open mind. Do not close yourself off to any possibilities.

  • Wendy Jordan says:

    Lisa that’s absolutely beautiful.

  • I am not a crybaby and just cried. Thinking of you!

  • I just really love your honesty and YOUR TRUTH. When my dad died of pancreatic cancer someone who should not have written his obit said he fought the the long hard battle with cancer and lost. Huh? He was diagnosed 10 days before he died, flown on a plane to be in a hospital to be near his children and grandchildren, said some beautiful goodbyes and went to sleep. What battle?

  • Jane says:

    I love the simple truth of this post. I also am tired of euphemisms. When i got dx this year I told my friends that, if I died, to make sure my obit said I fought a cowardly battle with cancer. You know, to liven up the obit pages a little for a change.

  • Anonymous says:

    wonderful…god it makes me cry…

  • Your directness and open, brutal honesty is powerfully moving. There’s no bullshit here. There’s life and there’s death. I’m glad to be spending some of my living right here reading your words. Thank you.

  • Christine says:

    Lisa, I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate your total honesty about YOUR OWN life and this merciless disease called cancer. I’ve echoed much the same words to my family and friends…and mostly I am met with looks of horror…that how dare she speak her own truth, her own beliefs and make US feel uncomfortable!! For some crazy reason so many people simply cannot accept that some people do not share the same belief in THEIR god (any god), do not believe in an afterlife, do not believe in the word ‘positive’ (now there is a word that will drive me up the wall!). I hate when people say to me…’fight’, you are a ‘warrior’, think ‘positive’, be a ‘winner’..blah, blah, blah. I’m a Realist, I am Human and because I am a vulnerable, organic human being I’m susceptible to all manner of disease. In my case…double dx cancer…breast & endometrial. I’m doing pretty good these days…but I know in my mind, heart and soul, that can change at any moment. I live with that, I accept that.
    Lisa…I share your words with my own words, with others in my world and still it is perceived that there is something wrong with me, because I won’t believe their way, I refuse to say the words THEY want to hear. That I won’t accept ‘hero’, ‘noble’, ‘warrior’, ‘fighter’ and that constantly regurgitated word…’positive’. I’m positive that cancer kills at some point in time. It took the life of my husband of 43 years a few years ago, it took the life of my mother and her sister. One day it will take mine. It is, what it is. I will live my life in the meantime, with passion, with laughter, love and with my own brand of truth & honesty. And if that makes Others uncomfortable or even angry, all I gotta say….Too Bad! It’s my life!!
    Thank you so very much Lisa for having/sharing such a truthful, honest voice in this arena, wherein far too many want us to speak in terms of ‘miracles’, ‘rainbows’ and ‘unicorns’, so as to comfort others. Your honesty and truth…is a ‘Positive’ in my life! I am sorry that you and your family have been made to suffer in more ways than one….just know that you are admired, respected and yes, even loved by many out here. I wish you every joy that you can find for yourself…no matter how large or small, I wish you the very best possible…whatever the word ‘best’ means for you. I only wish I really could give you the biggest, bestest HUG!!

  • Amy says:

    Once again you show us that words truly do matter.
    I shared your blog with my husband this evening. We have been grieving the death of my husband’s best friend. He died of esophageal cancer 2 months ago. I think we are having a difficult time dealing with this death on many levels…and one of them was the response of people, using words like “passed” and “fought the battle.” I thought your words would help my husband and I was correct.
    My husband is a linguist…and words really do matter.
    Thank you.

    • Laurel Postmus says:

      Unfortunately not everyone feels the same way. I would be honored if someone after I die, indicated that I had fought the battle the best way I knew hard because everyday, every test, every check up, every blood draw, every injection is part of my battle and I am fighting…and my kids need to know that I have done that for them and for me. So words that some may not like are indeed what others are honored by. How are people to know…so making people all the more uncomfortable in knowing how to share there sympathy with us is not helpful. People that come and offer condolences are doing so because they love us…that is enough for me.

  • Pat Milburn ( grannyuser) says:

    The energy that is you cannot be extinguished.

  • Jennifer says:

    I too dislike the euphemism “passing,” and hated it when some referred to my mother’s death as her “passing.” To me, a “passing” sounds like, “no big deal,” when to me it was a very big deal indeed.

  • Gini says:

    I found your blog through a google search. My mom died from pancreatic cancer last September and I miss her so much. When I read this post it reminded me of her sentiments. She didn’t even want an obit! All she wanted us to say was, “Bye, Vie.” Thank you and I will pray for you and your family.

  • […] seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures”) sounds an awful lot like one of her own blog posts (“When I die don’t say I ‘fought a battle.’ Or ‘lost a battle.’ […]

  • Consuelo says:

    I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me, how much they help me. I come back over and over again to this poem. Thank you.

  • […] seems to brace patients like my father-in-law as failures”) sounds an awful lot like one of her possess blog posts (“When we die don’t contend we ‘fought a battle.’ Or ‘lost a […]

  • Kaitlin says:

    The real truth about grief and loss. Plain and simple. Thank you for your honesty.

  • […] seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures”) sounds an awful lot like one of her own blog posts (“When I die don’t say I ‘fought a battle.’ Or ‘lost a battle.’ […]

  • Michelle Ann says:

    Beautiful words and so true.. You are in my prayers

  • Kim says:

    thank you…..

  • Louisa says:

    Lisa, I have been following your posts for a couple years…..this is the first time I have read this one…My only daughter died three days before you wrote this one, which is now a little over two years….how touching, how real and how true….the world needs this message, thank you for sending it and I received it just the right time as the past month has been so difficult…this gave me some awareness and understanding. Thank you.

  • Jitendra Shah says:

    Nothing but the truth

  • […] op 6 maart dit jaar, 44 jaar oud, en ze liet vooraf instructies achter, in het prachtige gedicht When I die. Niet zeggen dat ze verslagen was, niet doen alsof ze niet hard genoeg had geprobeerd. ‘Als […]

  • […] However the opposite is real for those that don’t survive. As Lisa Bonchek Adams wrote in her influential blog in 2012: “Once I die don’t say I “fought a battle.” Or “lost a battle.” Or […]

  • […] But the opposite is true for those who don’t survive. As Lisa Bonchek Adams wrote in her influential blog in 2012: “When I die don’t say I “fought a battle.” Or “lost a battle.” […]

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