“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”
“None of us gets out of this alive”
“We all have a one way ticket out of here”
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven...a time to be born and a time to die”
2 proverbs, a line from the traditional liturgy for an Ash Wednesday service, and a line from Ecclesiastes. All about the same topic. All pointing out a truth we sometimes would rather not admit. Some day all of us who live will die. So why do we spend so much energy trying to avoid talking about that?
I know, talking about and preparing for death seems a little bit on the morbid side. And it is certainly more than a little bit depressing. The logical question is why would we want to talk about it at all?
I agree. We don't want to talk about it. But sometimes, as the song says, you can't always get what you want...you get what you need. I believe that we NEED to talk about it. Only that way can we face the reality of death in a way that keeps us emotionally and spiritually and mentally (and even physically) healthy. It may not be comfortable but it is good for you.
I remember a number of years ago I went to the hospital to visit someone. I could see through the window in the door that the patient and the patient's son were talking with the doctor. So of course I waited in the hallway, so as not to intrude. However the Dr. saw me in the hall and came to the door and called me in, saying “you could be really helpful in this discussion”. They were talking about at what point did the patient want medical interventions to stop, at what point was extending life no longer the best option. A hard discussion to be sure. A discussion that not all doctors are comfortable having. But it is a discussion that, in the end, many patients and families prefer to have so that all the cards are on the table.
When we deny the reality and inevitability of death it changes us. And not always for the better. When we are isolated from the reality of death we never learn how to deal with it when all of a sudden it slaps us in the face. This is one reason I suggest that children need to attend family funerals – it helps start the learning process of dealing with death and grief. When we try to deny the reality of death we rob ourselves and our loved ones of the chance to say goodbye when the time comes, or the freedom to name that they are ready to go. When we try to pretend we are immortal then a sudden serious medical diagnosis can leave us babbling in a corner. On the other hand, when we accept the reality of mortality I believe we develop better tools for dealing with the crisis when it comes (although we may still spend some time babbling in the corner).
For many of us, part how we to talk about death and dying involves talking about spiritual questions. Questions about the meaning of life, about what life is, questions which often start with the word WHY. If I can let you in on a secret...some of those questions really don't have answers. We ask questions about what lies beyond death...and end up saying we can't really know until we are there. But it is my belief that deep spiritual questions are not always (if ever) asked to get a concrete answer. They are asked to open discussion. And as a person of faith I believe that we never have that discussion alone. We never stand in the face of life and death and “WHY?” alone.
We have no choice but to face the reality of death eventually. Some day we will be faced with the death of a loved one, or we will be sitting in a medical office and get told that we are dying. We can try to run away from these things if we want. Some people get pretty good at it in fact. But eventually it catches up to us. I encourage all of us to stop running, to stand in the discomfort, and be willing to talk about those realities with our loved ones. We start to talk about it as children and continue till we are old. And we will be healthier for it.
And remember that we never face the hard questions of life alone. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. Thanks be to God.