Dying Three Times

‘Creation of Humanity’ by Salma Arastu

I once heard that every person dies three times.

The first death is physical, when your body ceases to function.

The second is the last time your name is spoken aloud.

The third is when the last person who remembers you dies.

I encountered this notion some years ago – from where, I can’t recall – and it has remained with me since. I think about it from time to time, not in a morbid way, but with curiosity and fascination. It prompts me to consider those who walked the planet before me that no one here-now can conjure up. I wonder about the conglomeration of unknown people for which there is no record – who they each were, what they were like, who they were important to, and how many of them there must be.

I think about the loss of my mom six years ago. It was her first death, because we still talk about her often and remember her vividly. In time though, all of us who talk about her and remember her will pass on. When that happens – when her name is spoken for the last time – she will die again, and when she is no longer remembered by anyone, she will die her third death and be gone from the earth, in permanence.

Eventually, this will happen to me, too. I will be a person – and a life – that the ones to come long after me will never know. I will die three deaths: in body, in name, and in memory.

That’s okay.

If what I believe is true, we will regain the chance to know, somewhere on the other side – forever.

9 thoughts on “Dying Three Times

  1. Very interesting concept.
    When I find an old photograph donated. I often think the person in the picture is no longer connected to someone living. Maybe that is a sign of a third death. I can’t imagine parting with a photograph of a person for whom I still speak their name or share a memory.

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    1. Thank you. You are so right! I often think the same thing about old photographs I see in antique stores: who is it? Who were they dear to? What was their life about? Thank you for reminding me of this 🙂

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  2. Thank you for this post. Such an evocative idea- truly one to think on often. It is so neutral of feeling- so factual. But also poetic.
    I also love the connection to old photographs given up, made by the commenter.
    Another idea that occurs to me is- maybe we long to leave a mark on the world, to “make our name”, so that even after the last person who know us has died, our name might still be spoken!

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    1. I think that too, Fran – the name thing. I was thinking that gravestones perform that function – to keep your name “alive” even when you are gone. Tahnk you for taking the time to reply – I really appreciate your comments.

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  3. So interesting. I often think about an unknown person when I look at used book stores. Who was this book inscribed to? Why did they get rid of it? I do not know if I love or hate the idea of three deaths.

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  4. I heard this concept discussed many years ago on NPR’s RadioLab. I thought of my ancestors whom I have recently uncovered simply by opening a number of bound baptismal registries in the basement of a church outside Verona, Italy. It is likely that the oldest volume I looked at had not been seen for over a century. The entries were written in Latin, and I found my great-great-grandfather’s record. It listed his parents and his father’s parents. In transcribing dozens of records, I may have brought half of a 19th-century village back to life.

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    1. Wow! That is fantastic – your uncovering of your ancestors. Even just by reading their names, they are remembered. And now that you mention it, I believe that is where I first heard this concept, too, in listening to NPR! That’s it! I couldn’t remember….

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  5. Such an interesting concept. I’m thinking of people who have their name spoken by people who never knew them but know of them. Take Shakespeare, for instance. Will he never die that third death?

    It also makes me think of how long it takes for a retiree to stop being mentioned. Until some child picks up a book that once belonged to them and asks, “Who is ….?”

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    1. I agree, it fascinates me, too. I think that gravestones serve that purpose to, even if not intended. That the name on the headstone will continue to be read, long after those that knew the person are gone. Shakespeare? He’ll probably never make it to the third death!

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