istockphoto painting frame (1)frame*
Life has laws and certainties. One law, for example, is the 24 hours that count every day. An example of a certainty is that in everyone’s life there are two days that do not contain 24 hours; the day of our birth and the day of our death. We celebrate the first day every year. The second day, the day of death, usually remains unexposed and unspoken. That is unfortunate and unnecessary. Just as talking about sex doesn’t make you pregnant, talking about death doesn’t make you die. If we leave death untouched, we are short of life. In doing so, we are shorthanding both the end of life and life itself. The end of life because more often non-meaningful treatments are performed if the end of life is not discussed. And we are short of life because life and death are inextricably linked. For the more visually minded among us. If you see life as a painting, death is the frame. And it is in this limitation that the painting finds its value.

Sander Kollaard describes this beautifully in his book ‘From the life of a dog’:
‘It is a simple economic law: value comes with a limitation, in duration, in size, in number. Finiteness gives life value. In addition (as he sometimes thinks in a cozy mood): is not death our most faithful companion? Death is always there, from the very beginning, like our shadow, and it stays with us with every step, breath after breath, for better and for worse, to finally take the last gasp from our lips, and thus to give the gift of a finite life.’ (p.80)

The presence of a frame limits the canvas and the boundaries of the canvas forces the painter to choose, to set priorities. So every reason to dwell on death. Not to blind yourself to death. Well to see life in all breadth. Death thus encourages to make choices and to organize life. In short, death invites life.

Christiaan Rhodius, doctor of palliative medicine, February 2021.

*This time no description of contact with a patient. This blog reflects the short reflection with which Christiaan opened an evening at the Rotary Haarlem East. After this input, the conversation continued on the basis of three thought experiments about death as a source of inspiration for life. The introduction can also be seen at


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