Skip to comments.Our Friend, Death
Posted on 10/30/2009 10:09:23 AM PDT by NYer
As the saying goes: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. But taxes you can avoid and evade; death — not so. Therefore, the only logical response to death is to embrace it or at least accept it. After all, its not like we have a choice.
While traveling back from dropping off a son for college in Oregon last week, we attended Mass in Missoula, MT at St. Francis Xavier church. During the prayers of intercession, one prayer caught my attention: For all who have died, for all who are going to die and for all who are afraid to die.
That last one — all who are afraid to die — stood out for me. Isnt that just about everyone? I thought. Yet, many years ago, I realized there was only one thing to do about death to make a friend of it and think of it often.
Life through Death
At first glance, thinking of death seems morbid. Death hardly seems like a cheerful thought the day. But I contend that it is just that — or at least it can be a holy way to get through the day. And with holiness comes peace and ultimately joy. The opposite would be to try to deny death. That would be a depressing and hopelessly futile endeavor. Death is coming for us all so the sooner we make peace with it the sooner we can get on with living.
In the book Amazing Grace for Surivors (Ascension Press) there is a story titled The Gift of Cancer. In it, Richard J. Cusack, Sr. says that God gave him the greatest possible gift. It was cancer and the fear of dying, said Cusack. Through that gift He woke me up and showed me what life is all about and how wonderful it can be when you begin your journey closer to Him.
Cusack recovered, but during the time he believed he was at deaths doorstep, he prioritized his life very differently than it had been previously and he also began a ministry. One Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. he was sitting in a perpetual adoration chapel, thanking God for all the extra time he had been given. Before I arrive at my final judgment, is there something I can do for you here on earth? he asked God. What would be pleasing to you?
He suddenly had an inspiration about making a beautiful holy card with a monstrance on the front and the words, Do you really love me? Then come to me. Visit me before the Blessed Sacrament. His first printing of 100 cards quickly ran out and requests for more poured in. Since that time, Cusek has distributed tens of thousands of these cards. It was death that was the inspiration for such living.
Several years ago, I was speaking with Elizabeth (Beth) Matthews, a favorite author of mine who contributed stories to the Amazing Grace book series. She was in the middle of yet another move, dealing with all the usual hassles and then some. Beth related to me a phone conversation she had with a relative. In another hundred years well all be dead and none of this will matter, she had said.
Her relative was taken aback and said, Oh Beth, dont say that.
But Beth responded: Why not? Its true.
I understand that such a thought is actually not depressing, but freeing. Death puts everything in perspective. Instead of fretting over some irritation, it reminds us that indeed, soon our life on earth and lifes inconveniences will be nothing to us. It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, whenever I was upset over some trivial thing: Will it matter in a hundred years from now?
What if Death Was on Your To-Do List Today?
I once read of a monk that was working in the garden when he was asked what he would do if he had one hour left to live. The monk calmly stated that he would not do anything differently, he would continue working in the garden. Many are surprised at such a response since most of us would immediately drop to our knees and pray. But for this monk, he strove to live every moment for God. Thus, he was always ready.
We all know people who spend inordinate amounts of time at work and have many possessions, but dont go to Mass. If they knew they would come face to face with the Almighty that afternoon, would they change their schedule for the day? Or parents who run their kids all over town for activities, but dont bother to take them to church on Sunday. If they suddenly learned their child was going to die very soon, would the priorities change?
I actually had the experience of thinking one of my sons had died. When my husband Mark and I came upon our 14-year-old son, he was blue and not breathing. It turned out that he had a seizure and his breathing had been cut off. We were at a lake at a family reunion and it was the middle of the night. Our older son heard him struggling to breathe before he lost consciousness. Mark ran next door for help where his brother, a doctor, was staying. During those tense moments, Mark and I prayed separately. My oldest son and I prayed together and another son did CPR, which he had learned at boy scouts. Mark and I later learned that we prayed with the same thought in mind — that perhaps our son was already gone and it was too late. While we pleaded with God for to save our beloved son, we also acknowledged our acceptance of Gods will. Or course it was an emotional situation. My body shook with shock as I thought with horror that I had not even gotten to say good-bye.
Our son recovered within minutes and never again had another seizure. But our family was left with the experience of death. I told the kids we had been blessed for two reasons. One, our son and brother was still with us and two, we experienced first-hand what it is like to have death come without warning.
I am not in any way trying to lessen the shock and grief one feels over the death of a loved one. I know it is not a one-time feeling, but something that is grieved over and over again. But for Mark and me, the fact that we are in touch with eternity and try to live or it, our first reaction to any death is acceptance even along with the shock and grief. It is what keeps us grounded and helps us to share the same priorities: God first, everything else second and nothing in the way.
The Divine Jeweler
A few years ago, I heard on the news that former Beatle, George Harrison, had died. For some reason, on this particular occasion, I was immediately struck by the thought that now he was no different than a cleaning woman. His soul lay bare while his fame and fortune remained in this world. The only things he could take with him were the same things we all take with us — the love and service to God and others.
On earth, true value is often clouded by the glitz of the world, but death, like a divine jeweler, appraises lifes true valuables. I need the help of death to do this for me. For instance, I could be dropped into any department store onto any aisle (save the tool section) and find things I want to buy. Linens and towels? Suddenly mine seem so faded and thin. Furniture? Everywhere I look is something I like. One thing that helps to douse my materialistic inclinations it so remind myself that life is passing and nothing that I want to buy is of lasting value.
Someone much wiser than I once likened earthly life to a ship: It is the vessel, not the destination. The only reason we fear death is because we try to make the ship into the destination. That would be like driving across country in a car and then not wanting to get out once we arrived at our desired location.
Dont think that I am above fearing death or that Im looking forward to losing my loved ones. I simply have come to terms with the fact that God has promised us eternal life and that it will be better than anything we experience on earth. Theres only one way to get there — through death. And we all have to go sometime.
A favorite prayer of mine which keeps me grounded in this reality is A Workmans Prayer to St. Joseph. Appealing to St. Joseph for a right disposition in our work, it asks for help: .having always death before my eyes and the account which I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted
When the inspiration struck for this article, I envisioned that the topic would incite some to imagine me at my computer dressed in black with a humorless expression on my face. Some might wonder what sort of mother I must be to keep death on my thoughts. But instead, it is life that we strive for in our home. The idea is just not to confine ourselves to life on earth but to live in harmony with eternity. Only then do we live life to the fullest.
Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of ten children including two Kenyan AIDS orphans. She is a speaker and the author of Catholic Truths for Our Children: A Parent's Guide (Scepter) and the children's book, Dear God, I Don't Get It!" (Bezalel). She was also the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace book series. Her website is RaisingCatholicKids.com.
I disagree that cancer is a gift.
So be generous during your life and give to charity, with your heart, not just from the excess change in the bottom of your pocket. This is especially true now, when many people are struggling to financially stay afloat.
Amen on THAT!
I do have a question though for my Christian friends. I’m pretty much agnostic and always questioning and this is one question I ask myself that I can’t seem to understand. If you truly in heart and soul believe that God promises an eternal wonderful life, why do we then see doctors to stave off death? Why aren’t people killing themselves routinely to enter this wonderful Kingdom?
I’m honestly not at all trying to be snarky, but it just makes no sense to me. Just as this person saying that cancer is a “gift”. Nope. Just don’t understand that at all.
I don’t understand what God created cancer in the first place, much less create people that He knows will die horribly from it, and their loved ones will suffer along with them.
I guess if you don’t promise something, then no one will do what you tell tehm to.
I’m pretty with you on all that. I just don’t understand how a Loving God could or would have horrific diseases and horrible deaths on his agenda.
You have to look at the big picture.
My dad died of cancer when I was 21. People look at me and say, “How do you live with your Dad dying while you were so young?”
It taught me that life is very short. That one must love bigger than time. That every moment is a gift. And that love stays even when the person is gone.
I teach my children these things because I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. None of us live forever.
Those who are religious know that those that pass before us are in heaven. We will see them again. We learn patience. And personally, I don’t get how anyone who doesn’t trust in Our Lord makes it through.
Its not hard to understand. You have things to do here. You have people who count on you. You've probably seen the stories of the wounded soldiers jumping through every hoop to get back to their unit in combat, their pals are counting on them. When you get ready to draw your last breath you'll be looking at what you've left undone and you may fight to stay and finish it, or you may be at peace with what you've done and you'll make ready to leave.
As for cancer, I know very well that its not a pleasant way to go. If you go in a car wreck you've had no time to say your goodbys or get your affairs in order. The cancer patient does, on the other hand, know pretty certainly that he is on his way out and has that chance to say goodby and settle his affairs.
My opinion is that, if life is eternal, then its already eternal. My primary wish is to leave things in order, leave my family in order, hopefully outlive my wife so I can know I saw her all the way to the end, and then go out myself as gracefully as possible for the sake of the kids who must watch me go. I don't fear death at all, only leaving things in a mess when I go.
I once had a thought that death walked across the universe to finally meet you. He has to walk it and we have to meet him. The meeting will be as natural as birth.
I figure He isn’t a loving God, as we would define loving. I think He is above any kind of human description we can assign to Him.
A co-worker of mine lost his sister to cancer last week. She was 41. Two days later his brother-in-law, his sister’s husband, died. He was 44 and they left two children, 16 and 11. I doubt that anyone in that family is looking at death as their friend.
My father had a massive stroke at 37. Lost his speech and was paralyzed on his right side. Was given 24-48 hours max to live. He lived 9 years with the love of his family (me, my mother, and my brother) taking care of him every day until I was 11 years old when he died while I was out at a birthday party.
Sometimes what is understood doesn’t need to be discussed.
What a beautiful post. So full of love.
There is a bigger picture than we see a moment at a time.
Life is long.
No one sees the blessings immediately.
I’m curious as to how many people have looked a cancer patient in the face, and told them it’s a gift from God?
CS Lewis wrote two seminal books on the subject...The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. The second is essentially a collection of his notes following the death of his one true love...Joy Gresham, who like his mother died of a horrible cancer. A cynic need not even pick them up to easily dismiss his works as rationalizations within a Christian context, but I'd invite anybody who cares to be intellectually honest about the matter to at least take a look at them. If you'd care to peruse them, Chapter 1 of "A Grief Observed" is available here.
I observe grief everyday, first hand. I don’t need a book.