“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.” – Tecumseh (Native American Indian)

Until recently, I had never heard of a death song. A death song is a final prayer. I have come across several accounts of white men observing Native American warriors singing a song when it was apparent they were going to die. I did manage to find some reports that said a warrior would continue singing their song, usually in a high-pitched, wailing sort of way, until their actual death.

My curiosity has been peaked, and I googled “death song.” I learned all about heavy metal bands and all sorts of other not so interesting items about which I would have been just as happy never learning. However, I did finally learn that death songs are better described as a song that welcomes ones death. I am not trying to be hokey, but kind of, like when, in the old western movies, the Indian chief would turn to their fellow warriors and say something like, “Today is a good day to die.”

Welcoming death is a strange concept for many of us “modern day” westerners. We struggle to find ways to extend life, often without regard to the costs, pain and related consequences. Death is alien, to be fought against and never accepted. Despite this, I do guarantee that every one of us will die.

Why do we have such difficulty accepting our own mortality? We view death as an end, but in reality, death is part of the continuum. Life is a cycle, starting with birth and moving on to death. In all honesty, I started writing that life is a cycle, starting with birth and ending with death, but that statement would have only played into my personal fight and resistance to death. This resistance is very hard to change.

I wonder if writing my own personal death song would help me to reset my brain to see my eventual death as a welcomed part of the process in the complete cycle of life. I am going to try. I do not know how to start, but I am going to work on it.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW