And when I die . . .

Singer/songwriter Laura Nyro wrote this song when she was 16 years old–which is extraordinary. The Syllabus links to a YouTube audio of Laura Nyro’s 1989 acoustic performance of this song at The Bottom Line. Here’s Nyro’s first recorded version, when she was 18.

Gawande’s themes resonate throughout Nyro’s lyrics.1

I’m not scared of dyin’
And I don’t really care
If it’s peace you find in dyin’
Well then let the time be near
If it’s peace you find in dyin’
When dyin’ time is near
Just bundle up my coffin
‘Cause its cold way down there
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on

My troubles are many
They’re deep as a well
I swear there ain’t no heaven
I pray there ain’t no hell
I swear there ain’t no heaven
I pray there ain’t no hell
But I’ll never know by livin’
Only my dyin’ will tell
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on

Give me my freedom
For as long as I be
All I ask of livin’
Is to have no chains on me
All I ask of livin’
Is to have no chains on me
And all I ask of dyin’
Is to go naturally
And when I die
And when I’m gone
There’ll be one child born
And a world to carry on

Acceptance of mortality, acknowledgement of death’s singularity, desire for autonomy, reiteration of the circle of life2–it’s all in the song. I had to include it here.

I vacillated for months about assigning Being Mortal. Many people are uncomfortable discussing death and dying–young, old, it doesn’t matter. At 20 you think you are immortal, but growing older does not make most people warm up to the topic. Attitudes about death and dying are shaped by one’s culture, religion, upbringing, sensibility, and life experience. Finding safe ground is difficult in such uneven terrain. Why subject Questrom Honors Students to something so fraught with difficulty? I wrestled with arguments for and against. I anticipated reactions from curious engagement to reluctant acceptance to dismayed resistance. I do not want to be insensitive, and offend you. I do not want to condescend, and coddle you. Where should I draw the line?

You know what I decided. We’ll see whether it was wise. Until then, please talk to me–or to Dean Reiser or Liz Katz–if Being Mortal’s topics and themes are too difficult for your engagement.


  1. Source: http://www.lauranyro.com/lyrics.htm#Song5
  2. A no-brainer: https://youtu.be/8zLx_JtcQVI

Laura Nyro
Blood Sweat Tears
Questrom