Sunday, September 2, 2012

About Death

I heard today of the death of someone I didn't know personally but did know through through her partner, a person whose blog I read and whose writings and sermons I see and admire.  I don't know a lot of details; I don't need to know them. All I need to know is that her loved ones are grieving yet have the sure and certain knowledge that her pain and suffering are over and that she is now at peace. They also know that she will sleep in Jesus and rise in glory in God's good time and that they will all be together once more in the heavenly kingdom. It's a truly Christian belief and hope, and, I pray, one in which those who remain behind will find comforting and strengthening.

Death is one of those topics that has two faces like the Roman god Janus. There is the side that represents a topic that people really don't want to talk about, especially when it comes to their own death. The other side is the side everybody wants to talk about-- what were the circumstances, why now, who was with them, what did they see and hear, what did the person go through at the end of life, etc. Death represents a final frontier, more final a frontier than the conquest of space, the Marianas Trench or life on Mars. We all pray that we will have a peaceful end, slipping quietly away in our sleep without pain or suffering, but we also know that that doesn't always happen. I found that some who are approaching death have made a sort of peace with it and are willing to talk about the subject. They know that death comes to all of us, it is as inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning or sin. They just feel its breath on their cheek and know that they will soon have answers to questions that they cannot share. Then there are those who fight death tooth and nail to the last breath in their bodies, trying to deny death a victory just as they deny that it will come, whether they are ready or not.

Death, to be honest, scares us a bit because (a) we can't really control it and (b) we don't really understand what happens at death and beyond. We fear what we don't understand, and we fear what we can't control. We fear losing control of our lives, our dignity, our identity. We fear losing relationships that have sustained us and to which we have given our all. We fear hurting those we leave behind and wonder how they will get on without us. So much fear. Even though we may have great faith in God, firm belief that we are going to go to a better place, even longing to have pain ended and a new beginning in a glorious place, we still have some fear, maybe not crippling fear but fear nonetheless.

The older I get the more I think about my own death, especially now that I have a diagnosis of something which could be fatal -- eventually perhaps, or perhaps not. I know I will die one day; that's a surety It's just the mechanism and circumstance that I can't foresee.  The older I get, the more I realize that I have come to a sort of peace with it, at least at this moment. I can't speak for ten minutes or ten months or years from now; it may be an entirely different thing then, but I'll worry about that a bit closer to the time, if I know the time. Doing it now won't solve anything other than grow a bigger crop of fear than I can handle at the moment. It's all in God's hands anyway, no matter how much I think I can control it or whatever.

I will pray for the soul of L., her family and friends. I know the pain of losing a spouse, and the emptiness they will all feel even despite their faith and trust in God. It will take time for life to return to a semi-normal state, or what will become a new normal but with a big hole in the hearts and lives of those who mourn her.

I will pray for myself as well, not for healing or cure -- those I have put in the hands of my doctors and, of course, God -- but that I will have the strength to face what I need to face with calmness, patience, resignation (but not TOO much resignation; I need to have a little fight with this thing), and confidence that one way or another, I will win, either by beating the disease or by moving on to the life beyond death.

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die
   -- John Donne