This year, my uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a passenger died on my flight home from holiday and my auntie had a near-fatal stroke. It seemed as though everywhere I turned, I was faced with the reminder that death comes to us all. I looked towards my future and saw my days lined up, one after the other. Hopefully there’d be another 70 years’ worth, but maybe not. Either way, there was one sure conclusion at the end of the line: death.
Perhaps naively, my realisation that existence is not infinite was fairly sudden, and with hindsight, I felt like I’d spent my first 23 years on Earth taking this whole life thing for granted.
I know we shouldn’t dwell on things too much, but we also shouldn’t eat crisps before breakfast or cross the road at a red light. I do dwell on things, and after the happenings of the past year, my eventual death became something I couldn’t stop thinking about. I’m not very good at controlling my thoughts, you see, and as the first half of the year passed by, I became increasingly anxious about not being around in the future.
I analysed the prospect of my death in great depth, so much so that I’d find myself at dinner with friends wondering how they could possibly go about their normal lives knowing they might be hit by a truck tomorrow lunchtime. Why do we spend our whole lives learning, only for things to be cut short? What if I’m struck by illness and die young? Why can’t we all live forever under a sky of candyfloss clouds? I didn’t get very far in coming up with the answers.
One day, while I was mid-pondering on my walk to the tube, my phone vibrated. The words “Don’t forget, you’re going to die” flashed up on my screen. I’d been sent a notification from WeCroak, an app that uses a poison dart frog as its logo and reminds you of your impending fate. I downloaded it after my fears around death became all-consuming, because despite its startling nature, it’s supposed to teach us to implement needed change, to let go of what doesn’t matter and relish what does. In short, I hoped it would turn my fears into a powerful and positive new mindset.
Cofounded in 2017 by Hansa Bergwall, a publicist from Brooklyn, and Californian app developer Ian Thomas, WeCroak is based upon the old Bhutanese folk saying that “to be truly happy, one must contemplate death five times daily”. This theory is called death recollection, an old but forgotten tenet of healthy meditation practice.