Death is a wonderful thing. Although it may seem daunting and mysterious, it is a constant companion. In difficulty the concept of death can help us prioritize and in times of joy death lends us some perspective. But in the humdrum of this life some of us tend to forget about preparing for the next one. Keeping death in the back of our minds pushes us to live life thoughtfully and productively. Here are a few ways to keep ourselves in check:
1. Sleep with your kafan
Sure you could grab a spouse, a cat, or a stuffed bear but why not snuggle the final outfit of your life? Getting into bed with our kaftan (shroud) in hand allows us to prepare for the possibility of not waking up in the morning. If you feel uncomfortable wrapping your arms around a stack of sheets, try keeping your kafan in sight somewhere in your bedroom. Just remember it’s easy to start getting comfortable so if you put your kafan on your bookshelf try moving it to a different shelf or cuddling it in a new way every few weeks.
2. Write a note on your bathroom mirror
If you’re like my mother and your mirror is more of a day planner and less of a reflective surface then this one’s for you. Grab the most beautiful post it you can find and write yourself a reminder about your demise. Personally, I find that Imam Ali provided the best reminder when he said, “Every breath you take is a step towards death.” Throw that on a sticky note, pop it on your mirror, and keep your eyes open for new little phrases that you can rotate through as reminders.
3. Be conscious of graveyards
With all the commuting most of us do on a daily basis, there is a high likelihood some of us pass by one if not two graveyards everyday. Try to be on the lookout for any graveyards on your next drive and remind yourself that sooner or later that will be your final home. At least you won’t have to wash the dishes in that house …
4. Keep your will in your prayer mat
Okay so perhaps one of the items on this list should have been “write a will” but if you’ve got any assets chances are you have a will already written. Keeping your will in your prayer mat serves quite a few purposes. Seeing your will daily means you’ll never forget to keep it up to date. Reading your will on the prayer mat puts both your prayers and your will in perspective. Placing a will in this context makes excessive worldly possessions seem so incredibly unnecessary.
5. Start a religious bucket list
This may sound ridiculous but trust me it can be extremely exciting. Think of the most outlandish forms of worship you can think of and put them on your bucket list. Want to finish the Qur’an in one week at some point in your life? Or maybe pray Salatul Layl every day for a week? No matter what seemingly impossible religious task you come up with, write it down and tell yourself to take some baby steps towards your goal. Oh and feel free to cheat the system – i.e. “I want to go sky diving … while reading ayatul kursi” still counts as religious!
6. Memorize Surah Mulk
According to Prophet Muhammad, this surah removes its reciter from Hellfire and takes them to Jannah. According to Imam Jafar Sadiq, reciting this surah at night keeps one under the protection of Allah until morning. So why not memorize that bad boy!? I find that this not only brings me closer to my religion but also helps with my memory skills. Try doing one ayat every few days and before you know it you’ll be walk to the grocery store spittin’ Surah Mulk like the hotshot you know you are.
7. Schedule a monthly trip to the graveyard
Most of us who are part of a religious community have a graveyard where the majority of our community’s family members are buried. Try to set aside one Sunday every month to visit that graveyard, recite some prayers, and reflect. Truthfully I was never someone who visited the graveyard often until I lost my grandmother 9 months ago. Since my grandmother passed away my parents visit the graveyard every Sunday and honestly it is such a peaceful and sobering trip for us every week.
8. Shop before you drop
One of the biggest things you can do to remember death is to buy yourself a grave. Now for most people my age this might not be feasible but for anyone who is very settled in one location it is worth it to buy a plot now and make it easier on your loved ones after you pass. On my last visit to the graveyard with my parents my dad showed me where he and my mother would be buried and it was oddly comforting to know where they would be long term. Again, this is not for everyone so if you feel uncomfortable buying a grave, go ahead and purchase a kafan as a step in the right direction.
9. Join the burial committee
Do this. Seriously if there is one thing in the world that will make you see death completely differently it is washing a dead body. It is incredibly interesting to understand the intricacies of our final cleanse and shrouding. More importantly, learning the reasons behind why we cover ourselves with each piece of cloth when we die informs how we live. Maybe it’s something you do for just a year or two or maybe you commit to teach the next generation how to properly wash and bury a body. Whatever the time span, this is something everyone should experience.
10. Actively prepare
No, this is not the coup of the century, but you should still be prepared! If you have late prayers or fasts try coming up with a sort of payment plan to rid yourself of this burden. Personally I am still kicking 9 year old me for performing somersaults in front of my grandma till she believed I had prayed. Maybe you pray one full day of late prayer a week or maybe it’s every two weeks. Regardless of the pace just try to make sure you’re moving forward and working off the debt in this world so you don’t find yourself working it off in the next world.
I guess at the end of the day the goal is to pull an Ignotus Peverell and welcome death as an old friend. So whether you pick to do one, two, or all ten of the things on the list, just try thinking about death in a different light and I guarantee you’ll see a change in the way you live.