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Finding Meaning In Life: How Dealers in Death Helped me evaluate my Undertakings

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Recently I was invited to be the keynote speaker at an unexpected event. When I told my wife about it, her first words were, 'Oh my goodness, what are you going to talk about!?'

That was a good question. I was asking myself the same thing.

I accepted an invitation to speak at a national conference of funeral directors in Cape Town. And here I was, a life coach, speaking to people who dealt with death on a daily basis.

Then something interesting happened. As I immersed myself in the world of funerals and funeral directors in preparation for the keynote, I was struck by one thing: the way we see things. More specifically, I became interested to understand how people who work with death, daily, view the world.

The three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, working the thread of ife.
The Fates

Herodotus, the Greek philosopher who is often called the father of history, came up with the idea of the Moirai - the three goddesses or Fates. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts it. They determined your fate. A fatalistic world view. There was nothing you could do to change - the gods decided. He wrote;

Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances

The French philosopher and author Albert Camus said, okay, maybe the gods decide, but I won't have it! I will rebel against this absurdness of life. If I cannot change it, at least I can kick against it with all my might. So yes, life was essentially still meaningless and in his eyes, absurd, but at least he could lift his voice and make it heard! He rebelled agains the meaninglessness of life to find some hope in it.

Alburt Camus, contemplating life.
Albert Camus

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger – something better, pushing right back ~ Albert Camus

But then Viktor Frankl said, hang on - life isn't meaningless, neither has your 'fate' been predetermined. The Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor knew something about this. While in Nazi concentration camps he discovered that even in the most dehumanising and horrific circumstances, individuals have the ability to find meaning in their lives.

Viktor Frankl contemplating while smoking a cigarette.
Viktor Frankl

He observed that those who could find a sense of purpose and meaning were more likely to endure the suffering and maintain their mental and emotional well-being.

This insight formed the foundation of his psychological and philosophical work, which emphasises the search for meaning as a fundamental human drive.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way ~ Viktor Frankl

The keynote talk went well. The audience was warm and accepting.

So what did I talk about? I talked about how we see things and finding meaning in life, through death.

And I realised - again - how death awakens us to life in a strange way.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live ~ Norman Cousins

Let me leave you with a question: How do you see life?

Fatalistic? Absurd? Meaningful?

I'm thankful for having had the opportunity to speak to the undertakers. They've helped me see things in a new way, and also evaluate my own undertakings with deep care and consideration.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment and let's connect.


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