I can vividly remember lying in bed in the dark as a little girl, maybe five or six years old, staring at the slice of light permeating my room through the tiny space between the closed door and the floor, listening to my mom talk on the phone. She was bemoaning the sudden passing of a family friend and, for the first time, I was blindsided with a sudden understanding of death as the ending of a life.
Death. The ending of all life. Is there a more terrifying thought in our culture?
I could feel a deep chasm of fear open in the pit of my stomach and was quickly overwhelmed with feelings of insignificance, isolation, and powerlessness against this “thing” that was inevitably coming for me. Looking back, I think this realization marked the end of the most innocent part of my childhood. The next day I cried, angry with my mom for exposing me to this knowledge when it was supposed to be her job to keep me safe. Even as a small child, the horrible sense of finality coupled with the utterly unknown brought about a tangible, physical reaction of panic in my body. Death, I decided pretty early on, was not something I wanted to think or talk about.
As I’ve grown older, I continue to experience those same unsettling feelings about death. I have found that it’s easiest to keep myself too busy in the world of the living to have time to think about the world of the dead. It’s an escape mechanism that protects me from the fear that comes with acknowledging that one day, whether I like it or not, I am going to die. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but whether you like it or not, so are you. In a weird, morbid kind of way, death is both a great unifier and equalizer, which, I’ve recently discovered, is why we should actually take the time to think deeply about it. You, me, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Justin Trudeau— despite the differences we may have, whether they be political, cultural, or racial, we are all subject to the same limitation. When it comes to death, we’re all in this together.
Enter WeCroak, an inventive app that invites users in its description to “Find happiness by contemplating your mortality.” I first heard about it on a podcast I regularly listen to from CBC Radio called Tapestry, when the host was interviewing one of the app’s creators. I was intrigued by the premise. It piqued my curiosity. If I contemplate my mortality and really force myself to face death with my eyes wide open, I reasoned, maybe I wouldn’t be so terrified of it. I mean, I’m also completely petrified of mice, rats, and all things rodent-y, but I didn’t want to be exposed to a rodent five times a day. Notifications on my phone sounded innocuous enough. Could facing this fear somehow make me a better person? I downloaded the app. I wanted to find out.
WeCroak essentially works by sending five reminders via push notifications on your smartphone at random times each day, along with the option to view a quote about death. The randomness is important because as with the arrival of the notifications, we can’t know exactly when we will die. The developers call these “invitations,” and they’re meant to inspire reflection, but for me, they’re characterized by their extreme bluntness. They read, quite simply, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” Even though thinking about death makes me uncomfortable, I appreciate this approach. There are no attempts at euphemisms like “pass away,” “departed,” or “is in a better place.” Instead, five times a day, I’m forced to stop browsing Pinterest or scrolling through Instagram, and remember that my life is finite. And that’s a powerful thing. WeCroak is like the blunt friend you can depend on to tell the truth, even if it hurts. It makes me seriously question how I’m spending my time. Am I using the life that I have been given in a meaningful way? Am I focusing on what really matters? Do I have my priorities straight?
On the first full day of having the app, I was taking my son’s four-month baby photos (I do a monthly update for family and friends) when, “Ping!” I received one of the random reminders. Interestingly, it didn’t make me feel insignificant, isolated, or powerless against death. Instead, it made me unequivocally appreciate the moment I was in, with the chubby little baby staring up at me from the sheepskin rug at my feet. Suddenly, my greasy hair and the fact I hadn’t showered in over 24 hours didn’t matter, and neither did the basket overflowing with dirty laundry that I’d been feeling guilty about all morning. This mattered. I paused for a few extra seconds between snapping photos to let the joy of the moment really and truly fill my heart.
Oh man, do I ever have a cute baby.
I love him so much. Seriously, my heart might burst.
Look at his little grin.
Look at his little double chin.
Look at those big blue eyes.
I can’t believe I really get to be this little boy’s mom.
I am so damned lucky.
My experience using WeCroak has completely shifted my perspective. Death, I’ve now realized, is something I actually want to think and talk about, and it’s something I need to think and talk about. The reminders have helped me to find the courage to face the fear of death with my eyes wide open; to call the monster out of the darkness and into the light where I can really see it, examine it, get to know it, and, maybe, even make it a friend. By acknowledging death each day, I have been granted a larger perspective, and I’ve found deep and profound joy in the small moments of my life. I recently screenshotted one of the app’s quotes about death from Henry David Thoreau because it struck me as being particularly wise. It reads, “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”
Note: the above essay is a recounting of the author’s personal experience and is not a paid advertisement. Sweatpants & Coffee is not affiliated with WeCroak.
Kirsten Clark is a high school English and Social Studies teacher on a mission to live the fullest life possible. You can find her setting new goals related to her passions of reading and running, searching for new experiences, and questing to check items off her bucket list. Kirsten lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband, and since welcoming a baby boy in December of 2017, she is embracing the new adventure of motherhood with all of its ups and downs. She occasionally blogs at shelooksforadventure.com, and posts regularly on Instagram @kirstenlanae.