The Last Day

by | Aug 28, 2022

Each yoga class ends with the pose savasana, also called corpse pose and dead man’s pose. It’s a pose intended to relax your body after stretching your body into warrior poses, mountain, down dog, all active and energizing poses. At the end of the session, savasana allows the mind, body and spirit to relax and reset.

The pose is simple – lie on your back, arms extended by your side, slightly separated from your body, legs extended and also slightly separated. Close your eyes and breathe slowly, aware of each inhale and exhale.

The first yoga class I ever took, almost 50 years ago, I fell asleep in savasana. I was 20-years-old and relaxation was as foreign a concept to me as retirement. I was so embarrassed when the instructor woke me that I didn’t take another yoga class for another 30 years.

When I did venture back to yoga, I found savasana the pose I kept coming back for. At that point in my life, I craved relaxation. I had just begun an MFA program and relaxing was not often a choice available to me. Lying in corpse pose, I could let go for a few minutes of the demands of the class.

Savasana was not only relaxing, but it reminded me of my own mortality- and the deep richness every moment offers. You come out of savasana by rolling to your right side, leaving your heart open, and curled in a fetal position, from corpse to birth. Our culture too often fears death or considers it taboo. I grew up in a faith tradition that embraces an afterlife and still believe that what comes after this life is a mystery I’ll be able to explore once I am no longer in this world.

My mother refused to talk about death and feared death more than anything (except spending her last days in a nursing home). My dad had a casual attitude about death, accepting it as a part of living, something like life insurance, that you planned for. The month before he was diagnosed with lung cancer he told me that he wanted to pick out his casket, plan his funeral, and pay for everything before he died. As usual, he asked for my help in this major event. However, after the diagnosis, death seemed just a little too close. I’m just grateful that the only regret I have about our relationship is that I was not able to help him plan his funeral, pick the music, the readings. But he did make his wishes about how he wanted to die known, and I honored those wishes.

I’m now the age that my dad was when he died. I’ve already planned my funeral, left the plans in the big envelope with my DNR in the coat closet. I’m in no hurry to leave this world, but neither do I want to deny the inevitable.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people died and death was once again, much to close. All I could think was, “I want to live through this. I don’t want to die of COVID.” Of course, all too often, that really meant, “I don’t want to die.” Doesn’t matter what I want. It’s going to happen anyway.

So, each day during the pandemic became one of knowing that that day could be my last. Mostly, I continued to live as if I were immortal. But, always, the thought was there: this could be your last day. How do you want to live it?

Recently, I begin giving that last day of my life a little more thought. The 2007 poem by Mahmoud Darwish embraces both impermanence and the joys of this life.

Remainder of a life

by Mahmoud Darwish

If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“There must be an adornment for writing,
so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white . . .
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me . . .
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then what?
Then I’d comb my hair and throw away the poem . . .
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!

Published in the New Yorker, May 14, 2007
Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

The poem prompted me to begin thinking about how I would spend my last day. Here is a first response:

On the last day

I will run beside the ocean
on packed sand,
the wind stinging my cheeks.
I’ll return to the house,
sweaty and satisfied, savor
a long shower
allow the warm water to wash
away the brine.
I’ll slip into my mother’s soft, red bathrobe,
          Shadowline, from Belk’s
department store. I’ll feel her love
embrace me, hear her voice,
redheads can’t wear red or pink.
ll laugh and answer,
look at me now! Then I’ll feast
on pancakes
because I relish the starchy satisfaction
smothered in butter and syrup,
a treat I denied myself too often.
I’ll settle
into my favorite wingback, write a poem,
read some favorites,
copy one – or more! – into my journal
just to feel
what it’s like to write those words.
I’ll put on the yellow dress
I’ve been saving. My love and I will
prepare dinner together.
I’ll pour the good wine into our best goblets.
When the sun blazes
the sky orange, I’ll toss my journal into the fire,
walk barefoot back
to the beach, arms raised, foam
circling my feet,
a woman made of water and fire.


  1. Ed Seel

    Beautiful, thought provoking blog … and poems! I love you very much and will be happy to be a part of your last day.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Just to be clear – I’m in no hurry for that last day, but happy to live each day as if it is the last when I can manage that attitude.

  2. Bill Griffin

    Two beautiful poems. Thank you, Pat. Just before I discovered your email I had spoken with my father on the phone, always changes now new concerns, last days drawing nearer. Your words have helped me reflect and accept.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Bill. Not an easy journey for you and your family. There really is no way to prepare for the last day of one we love. I’ve found that acceptance, like grief, is a process, and not linear. Love to you and family.

  3. Carol Thomas

    “ I want to live forever,” I keep telling everyone, and no one, knowing it won’t be true when the time comes. “ You are just curious. You don’t want to miss anything,” I tell myself. Yet I am just as curious about what comes after — assured that this can’t be all there is.

    So I especially loved this posting.

  4. Pat Riviere-Seel

    Thank you, Carol. I think we journalists are always curious. This weekend I was talking with a 99-year-old friend who joked that he doesn’t read any obituaries for people 100 or more, so “maybe I’ve lived past the time to die.” Love his attitude and wit.

  5. Chrys Riviere-Blalock

    What a poem, Pat! Beautiful! And especially poignant considering what you have been walking through with so many you love the last few years. I can picture you in each line.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Chrystal! Just last week two more long time friends left this world.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.