I've been peeking at death too often in the last few days. Way too often.
It began roughly two weeks ago when I ran across an old friend during a chance encounter at the bank. We exchanged pleasantries and at some point I asked how his family was doing and particularly his wife. They were folks we (the wife and I) hung out with when our boys played little league together quite a few years ago. I learned from the man that Beverly, his wife, had died of a massive heart attack while they were in the midst of moving into the home they had recently bought as part of their retirement plans. He was clearly still heartbroken despite losing her more than a year previously. We parted ways and as I left, I promised to pray for him.
On Friday, I received a call telling me that the mother of someone I worked with nearly 10 years ago had passed. I quickly called her just to communicate that the missus and I were thinking of her. I learned that the mother had passed a week earlier. We talked about how sick and weak the mother had become, the suffering and turmoil of the days leading to her death but the comfort experienced when her mother died peacefully in her sleep, her suffering mercifully ending. Again, I promised to pray and that promise was eagerly accepted.
Over the weekend, a call came in reporting the death of someone I work with. A sudden and unexpected death. The man not much older than I, who had worked out where I'm working for more than 30 years. Now gone.
On Tuesday, I learned that yet another acquaintance from my son's high school baseball days, the father of a young man who played first base, had also died a week earlier. We found out when the missus decided on a whim to check the obituaries. There he was. We were stunned. Not many weeks earlier, we had seen him and his wife on bicycles as we walked our dog in the neighborhood. Now he's gone as well.
Then today, I'm listening to the radio as I break for lunch, and I hear of Robin Robert's mother's death but more particularly, I hear the moving story of the ABC journalist taking a necessary break from her own health problems to be with her mother as she passed:
To help me deal with my immense grief my family tells me momma gave me one final gift as her last act. She waited for me to get home on Thursday to say goodbye. She was there when I took my first breath and what a privilege to hold her sweet hand when she took her last breath.
Death is inevitable. We'll all have to face it. For the believer, death however isn't the end, instead it's a gateway to a glorious beginning where an end has been put to endings.
Death isn't scary for me. Dying is. We all hope for a quick and peaceful end. None of us want to suffer.
Yet some of us will. Perhaps many of us.
What is the difference Christianity makes, and why does it give us hope and so empower us to act and live in the present in a certain way?
Because of Christ, death has no power over us any more. That’s it, basically. The fear of death, the terrible dread that drives our world, along with the fear of suffering that is it’s intimate companion, is simply not to be ours. Christ suffered and died for us, and his suffering and death were and are the salvation of the world. So we need not be afraid of suffering or death, since a glorious future has been assured for us through, with, and in this Lord who is all in all.
So, how are you doing with that? How am I doing with that? Afraid of death, much? Afraid of pain, much? This is truly something we need to take to prayer, you know. Of course there is a natural fear of pain and death that resides in our very bodies and is not subject to our rational wills. Jesus himself manifests this species of fear in the garden of Gethsemane. Our flesh shrinks from the cross.
But we need to pray and think very hard about the fear of pain and death that does reside in our reason. Because the world is tearing itself to pieces over the fear of pain and death.
He expounds, taking a direction that is so counter-cultural, so... well... Catholic, that I think it won't sit well with many sadly but it's something that needs to be read, studied and taken to heart. It's something that puts meat on the bones of suffering.
Death is coming, has come, will come again. For the fortunate ones, death will come quickly. Yet for more of us than we care to think about, that won't be the case.
How prepared are we for the inevitability of death? How prepared are we to suffer? How prepared might our loved ones be?
I don't think I'm where I need to be and perhaps I'll never get there but I do know that I've embraced a faith that deals directly with the subject matter and promises victory and particularly teaches that in God's longer view, the pain and suffering that might be connected to the end of life is pain and suffering that leads in that longer view to redemption and hope.
I'm likely not as prepared as I need to be but I'm convinced that should I embrace this faith with more vigor, more passion, more prayer, more commitment, I'll be more prepared.
Lord, prepare me. Lord, prepare us.