Memento Mori: A Lenten Reflection on Death

three crosses

“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The priest murmurs these words as he traces ash in the shape of a cross on my forehead. A cross, the symbol of Jesus’ death and for the Christian, the symbol of hope. It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian faith. Lent is a penitential season, one in which the faithful are encouraged to dive deeper into prayer, and take up the practices of penance, fasting, and almsgiving. Through these practices, we try to turn our hearts more fully to Christ and prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection. In turn, Lent mimics our earthly lives, a time of preparation for our death and the second coming of Christ.

For most of my life, I’ve had a pretty intense fear of death. My mom would try to reassure me by telling me about Heaven and how we would spend eternity there, but the idea of being somewhere I didn’t know forever seemed to make things worse. So, I did the smart and sensible thing. I ignored my fear. I pretended death didn’t exist. I am fortunate that I was able to do this for so long, as it meant that my life was not touched by death in a meaningful way until my grandmother died when I was 22. Even then, her death reinforced that worrying about dying was a problem for future Becca. So I continued to bury my head in the sand and pretend I’d live forever. Until I wasn’t able to ignore it any longer.

A few years ago, I started to feel these nudges. Pinpricks of doubt and fear creeping into my heart. Call it the Holy Spirit, or maybe my conscience, but I kept thinking about death and how I was living my life. It’s not like I was doing bad things. I was a stay-at-home mom, spending my days with a two year old. Life was enjoyable, albeit a bit mundane. Nevertheless, I felt the overwhelming urge to explore my Catholic faith and dive deeper into my relationship with Christ. As Lent approached the following spring, I found myself listening to a podcast about the “Death Nun”. Sr. Theresa Aletheia discovered the ancient practice of meditating on one’s death, known as Memento Mori, or “remember you will die.” She decided to keep a {fake} skull on her desk and tweet one thing about her Memento Mori meditation each day for a year. As I listened, I felt such a visceral discomfort at the idea of imagining and thinking about my death daily. I could barely handle the glancing consideration I’d given it over the last 30 years. Yet I could not stop thinking about Sr. Theresa’s story.

Memento Mori. The words haunted me. The urge to pick up this practice was strong, a constant pressure on my heart.

So, even though my brain screamed for me to keep these heavy thoughts at bay, I decided that for Lent that year, I would meditate on my death. Sr. Theresa turned her meditations into a devotional/journal, and I bought a copy to motivate me in my Lenten practice. Each day offered a short reflection on the daily Mass readings, an examen {a practice in which you reflect on the day in light of God’s love and mercy}, a prayer, and a journaling prompt. As encouraged to do in the devotional, I began my prayer time by literally imagining my deathbed scene. It was excruciating {not what I imagined, just the act of imagining of it}. However, as I read through the reflections, I realized that, though they were extremely convicting, they were sprinkled liberally with words of hope. I struggle with the need to be in control, especially as I’ve grown into motherhood. However, for a few minutes each day, I was blessedly reminded that I’m not in control, that I’m in need of a Savior. He conquered sin and death, not me. It was humbling and freeing to remember that.

Memento Mori. Those words also reminded me that this is the only life on this earth I am given {a sort of Christian YOLO, if you will}. I generally felt I was a pretty good person, but as I continued to reflect and pray through Lent, I realized that wasn’t enough. At least for me, just being “pretty good” felt, well, pretty passive. Joseph Ratzinger, also known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, once said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” To me, greatness meant constantly, actively, striving toward Christ. It meant committing to daily prayer, looking for ways to serve my family and those around me, learning about the teachings of the faith. It meant consciously deciding, each day, to look for the will of God in each moment, and to follow Him.

I’d like to say that after that Lent, I never struggled with my fear of death ever again. But as I am human and, thankfully, still on this journey of earthly life and faith, my fear is still ever present in my life. However, it is no longer all-consuming, as it once was. One fruit of my Lenten practice of Memento Mori was that it woke me up to be an active participant in my faith. My daily practice of remembering my death became, ironically, a great exercise in hope.

Professor Dumbledore reminds us that, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Here’s to living life with an eye to the next adventure. Memento Mori.


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Rebecca Slocum
Rebecca S. is a born and raised Houstonian; she grew up in Katy, graduated with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Houston {go Coogs!}, and made a home in West Houston with her native Houstonian husband. She quickly realized that the chaotic lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for her and soon found her calling in education. She taught while earning her masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas. Currently, she is staying home with her son, Thomas {2016}, daughter Charlie {2020}, son Zack {2021}. In her free time, she loves to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in H-town, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.


  1. This was fascinating! I’m not a big fan of death either, but I just lost my mom to cancer a few weeks ago, so it’s a topic our whole family has been very close to this month. Interestingly, Memento Morí always makes me think of Haunted Mansion at Disney World (lol!) I always find a Disney connection. 🙂 But theme park aside, this “walking the valley of the shadow of death” has led to deep conversations about how we truly want to live.


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