The Death App

My death app bothers me. I have an app on my phone that reminds me that I am going to die 7 times a day. I actually paid 50 cents so that my phone will remind me 7 times a day that I am going to die. In a world where the news regularly informs me that other people have died, I purchased an app to remind me that I will eventually be one of those other people. It feels so distant in my tiny bubble of reality that I actually wanted a reminder about something that always happens to every person. Many other humans do not have time to load dumb apps onto their device. I have oodles.

Sometimes my death app makes sounds and disrupts me while I am working. I found the notifications that I received from my death app (that I paid for) inconvenient so I silenced the notifications. It’s actually possible that someone died manufacturing a screen for a device so that I can be reminded, (when it is convenient for me) that I am going to die. I imagine that this makes me more self-aware. I imagine that it is healthy for me to be politely reminded that I am going to die. I have a death app that is somehow beyond all logic and reason aspirational. It’s an aspirational death app to remind me of how wise I am to be contemplating my own death. “How forward thinking of you!”, my death app reminds me 7 times every day without sound notifications.

I think that people should be impressed that I have a death app on my phone. They should say things like, “ How do you boldly endure the weight of your own mortality so frequently, but not so frequently that it’s inconvenient for you?” I will boldly answer, “Because I have enough purchasing power to own an expensive device, onto which an app loads daily reminders that I am dust and to dust I shall return.” They should gasp in awe, but they probably have other notifications to attend to. They also might find my death app morbid and entirely unnecessary.

I have an aspirational death app on my phone that I paid for which I would also like to receive praise for having. I want credit for my aspirational death app because it speaks to the type of person that I am. I am a wise sage who has the courage and forethought to contemplate their own mortality with an app loaded onto my phone because I am one of very few people who was fortunate enough to be born into a place that would make tiny hand computers onto which I can load death apps to prove how forward thinking I am.

I want credit, but I don’t want it to sound petty so I have to work it into conversations by making fun of it. “Ha!” I will say, “Is it not funny that I have a death app on my phone? Are we not amused at my death app?” Surprisingly few people are amused by my death app. They look at me like I am probably managing and/or nursing severe emotional problems. This is ridiculous because my death app serves to prove that I am not only managing my emotional problems I am also reflecting upon my mortality with the kind of precision and accuracy that only technology can provide.

Occasionally the death app even sends inspirational quotes that have nothing to do with dying. I imagine that this was because someone complained that the death app was too depressing. How did that conversation even go? “Uh, the quotes that you use on your death app are too deathy, they talk about dying too much… don’t you have something more peppy, could you get some Yoda on there talking about the force? I just feel like the death app is bringing me down, man. I ran 15 miles today for fun and I want to make a little space for thinking about death, but in kind of a playful, more spirited, lively, and not deathy way. Wait, do you have an app that will just tell me how amazing I am 7 times a day?”

In the end the app is a platform from which I can perform the self that I want to believe in. It puts my faith back where I secretly always want it, in me and my willpower to out-think the inevitable. It is the rehearsed illusion that I can exert control over reality by knowing things about reality. There is a cut-off point for knowledge concerning death. The ways of knowing become limited and purely speculative in the wake of death, except when they are absolutely certain and also obnoxious.

To know about a concept doesn’t necessarily change or shape the way in which you will approach the reality of the actual experience. My death app in no way guarantees that I will go peacefully into the night, it just offers facts and occasionally completely unrelated inspirational quotes that have nothing at all to do with death. The more interesting quotes are from doctors describing the process of death and more recently I received a quote about how poorly relatives tend to deal with the death of a loved one. I was struck by how untrue the statement was in my own experience.

I remember being present in the room with death and my relatives who all handled the process with grace and kindness. I remember calling my father and how hard it is to talk while crying at the same time. I also remember peace, the death was peaceful enough, but it was also supported by a faith that made space for mystery. If not certainty on my part, the suspicion that there was a kind of freedom that entered the room instead of just an absence. I felt hopeful in the wake of that death despite all of the logic that told me that I should’ve felt something else. There is a point where rational thinking ceases to work and whatever is outside of that steps in uninvited. It was in the wake of this death that my faith became more of a real thing to me. It was gradual, but the faith that I grew up with was better at explaining the emotional reality of lived experience in a more compelling way. I have always loved stories and the way that they can move people who have nothing else in common toward each other.

The death of a loved one and the deeper formation of my faith could be an arbitrary set of disconnected facts, but I like to imagine them as linked in a way that is difficult to understand. I like to imagine something beautiful moving outside of my field of vision, something more complicated and nuanced than just a matter of scale between us and the next galaxy. I agree, being small is interesting, but being small is different than being loved.

I find the idea of the death app compelling because I live in a culture that is prone to trying to make me forget one of the larger and more mysterious parts of a human life. The death app just kind of states facts when it isn’t employing ridiculous Yoda quotes. I don’t really notice it all that often though, because it is set to silent.

I received this death app quote recently and took a screen shot so that I could save it, “Dying men think of funny things—and that’s what we all are here, aren’t we? Dying men? – Tad Williams

2 thoughts on “The Death App”

  1. I don’t often take the time to read blogs or listen to podcasts, but I am always grateful I have taken the time to read any of yours.

    On the topic of death, have you ever read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or Stiff by Mary Roach? Similar in their introspective and amusing analyses of death and dying in our culture. Worth a read.


    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and your kind words. I love reading recommendations since it is always difficult to track down new authors. I will look up both of your recommendations, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes sounds right up my alley and my friends recommended Stiff a few years back when I was on vacation and I immediately forgot about it. One of my favorite reads was We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider, death is not his primary topic, but the first essay of the book talks about a near-death experience.


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