Shell: What Death Can Teach Us About Living


Shell: the outer covering, the vessel of moments, the container of experience, knowledge, wisdom, stories.


Days of walking through northern France and the former Western Front of World War II it is difficult to not be aware of the great horror and death this land has endured. War cemeteries, roadside crucifixes, churches in every village we pass mark a violent and bloody past. Shells, even a century later are regularly dug up by farmers ploughing their fields. As we walked along the former battlefields we passed shells along our path.

Walking the land through fields, forests and country lanes one becomes aware of death on a smaller level. Small dead animals are a constant reminder of the fragility of life.

Get Busy Dying

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” The Shawshank Redemption

The reminders of the thousands of young men who lost their lives on these battlefields tell me to not put life on hold. The numerous dead animals reinforced the brevity of life. The quote above from The Shawshank Redemption is when Red had been on parole and decides to go find Andy who has escaped from jail and made his way to Mexico to start a new life. The quote and reminders in France are powerful metaphors to start living life now. To not wait another moment. To be mindful of every moment in each day. To the preciousness of life.

Life is but a hair’s width. Life is precious. Make every moment count. Dead mole along the path.

Just Now It

Is there something you have been putting off? Are you where you want to be in life? Are you living for the future? Are you saving your happiness for some future moment?

Are you insanely busy being insanely busy to notice life’s passing in each moment?

The Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Time, they say doesn’t wait fo anyone. Happiness is now. I have lived  a balancing act all my life between being present and enjoying and appreciating the moment and times when I had let fear get in the way and be too future focused. I am sure I am not alone. The older I get hopefully the wiser I become and realise the importance of now. I guess, I have started to feel my mortality to understand that life is short, that like the small animals of the field our life is very limited.

Each moment we are given a gift. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, each moment is a gift that is why it is called the present.


As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.”

When we begin to live each moment in gratitude then magic happens. Each moment takes on new energy and excitement. We begin to feel more ‘alive’.

Our lives become filled with greater joy and riches. We become more aware of our environment. We may, like me, develop a child-like curiosity and zest for knowing and understanding the smallest details.

A Fishy Story

Like how did the gold fish that I photographed end up on a road in a village in northern France? What was the story of this seemingly unimportant and insignificant event? The curiosity gets the better of me. Who was carrying the fish? What were their lives like? Was the fish alive or dead when it fell on the road? Where was the person going?

Heartist's Journey
How did the gold fish end up as roadkill on a quiete little village in France?

Carpe Diem

As we traverse this land, the thousands of young men who lost their lives so young, are a constant reminder to live now. Small animals live short lives, a hair’s breadth in the length of time. We spend so much time preparing for the future we miss out on the present. Seize the day.

Walking gives you plenty of time to think about your life, but also time to think about things you see in the present moment. Like the little fish on the road in a small village in northern France!

Beauty of Death

People asked me why I was taking photographs of dead animals. I didn’t know how to answer then as I didn’t myself know why at the time, but I now understand. There is a beauty in death as there is in living. I realised I was seeing the ‘shell’ of the creature. A ‘shell of its former self’ some may say. The spirit had disappeared, but the ‘container’ was still physically present. The story had left the body, the moments that made up this life.

When we pass away our bodies are shadows of the experiences and stories we created in life. A butterfly in its last throws along the road.

A Flower

These ‘shells’ to me were as beautiful as a flower, as beautiful as a shell along the shore. It is funny that a shell is the exterior skeleton of a dead animal,and that we no longer associate this with death but see a beautiful ‘shell’.  It is only our fear of death that help us create stories.

The chaffinch in the image at the top of the blog was taken as we left Arras. The beautiful colours of its plumage caught my eye. The serenity of its pose stopped me in my tracks.

Living A Good Life

Your body is also a shell. It is a vessel filled with stories, a container of love and of wisdom. When you die, your stories, your life, your experiences evaoparate like your soul into the great unknown.

These stories are what make up your life. If you have lived a full life, a ‘fulfilling life’ some of these stories may overflow and be passed onto those who have known and loved you. To create stories mean that we need to live while we are alive. To create moments and be open and receptive to life’s gifts. To share your gifts, your moments with others.

A Good Death

Judith, a fellow Australian on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem graciously opened up to me the story about her late husband. It brought tears to my eyes as we walked together. It opened my heart to how important it is to have a good life. It also made me understand the importance for preparing for a good death.

Graeme had been terminally ill form some time, and Judith had nursed him for many months. She and Graeme were able to have conversations about death and prepare for the inevitable. She was able to make all the arrangements in advance rather than avoiding talking and preparing for his passing.

Life Well Loved

As Judith spoke about her deceased husband I could see her welling up and the depth of love she felt for him. I also sensed that he was well loved by those around him. That he was a character larger than life, that he lived life fully.

When you are gone what beauty, passion, inspiration, love will you leave behind? How will you have lived? Many fear death, I fear not having a full life.

Vale Graeme

When Judith told her neighbours of his passing they prepared yellow sashes to the trees in their street and a hanging sign from tree to tree across the road that read ‘Vale Graeme’ or ‘Farewell Graeme’. The funeral director as he drove down the street remarked that in all his years he had never seen such an incredible heart-felt send off.

Celebrating Death

Death in many cultures is celebrated. In the West many people now prefer to have a celebration of a persons life more than a funeral filled with sadness and passing. There is still a long way though how we talk about death that stirs up a lot of emotion.

Extraordinary Lives

Walking the last few days through northern France past constant reminders of the Great War, of death and destruction, I had felt really sad. But I had also learned that those who sacrificed their lives for us, our families and those that came before us has given us great gifts. They have given us the opportunity to be able to live extraordinary lives. To be able to have ‘full’ lives, to fill our cup to overflowing.

How will you fill you vessel to overflowing? How will you make the most of every moment to take a chance, to love more deeply, to wear your heart on your sleeve, to stumble and fall, to get yourself out again, to gain wisdom and let go of sorrow, to live a ‘full filled’ life.

You are a flower in bloom. What beauty will you share while you are living? What seeds will you leave those who come after you?

Let go of your fear of death and embrace life.

Your Personal Pilgrimage

As we walk to Jerusalem I am reminded of the Camino and the symbol of the scallop shell. It symbolises one’s own personal journey with all roads radiating back to our centre.


Life is a continual journey leading to the centre of our soul. The shell also reminds us that though we may be continually be wandering inwards, to also be always be radiating our inner beauty outwards.

To share our life, our passion with others. One day we all will die. Let those we leave behind not focus on the outer shell, but the stories, the spirit, the passion, the energy that we lived our life with and the memories we passed on. Let us create lives that have been well lived.





What do you think?

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  • Karen McLachlan

    Thank you for these pictures Dave and for your heartfelt words. I’m not afraid of dying it’s the living that scares the shit out of me.
    You only have to watch the news and what us as human beings are doing to this planet and are screwing it all up as we speak.
    I’m sure future generations don’t have much to look forward to in this world and why so many men and women decide not to bring more children into this world.

    Take care, be well. Best wishes. Love, Karen ??

    • David Cuschieri

      Hi Karen,
      Yes we are doing a good job of destroying the planet.
      I understand your sentiments about how men and women decide not to bring more children into this world.
      It is up to all of us to start making a difference to ensure that future generations have a world worth living in.
      Thank you for your thoughts and well wishes xxx

  • Tessa Wilson

    Hear, hear, David! We all have the chance to leave a positive legacy – however insignificant it might seem. The sum of the good we can do is more than we will know but the future of next generations depends on it, Hope you have had a beautiful day. Blessings to all of you xx

  • Margaret Hunt

    HI David,
    Love following your thoughts and blogs as you walk these lands. I love this one, we have a choice in how we leave our world and what we leave behind us. A wonderful lesson in mindfulness.

    Bless x