Within the past month I have experienced the sting of death several times. My dad passed away on March 7th. On March 17th Betty and I received a call that a 87 year old gentleman we had driven to church every month for the past year was near death. He passed away two days later. Then, on March 18th, a man who I had worked with in radio over 40 years ago lost his year long battle with leukemia.
I know it is part of life and I know it is unpreventable and inevitable, but I don't have to welcome it. My faith promises me that my death will not be the end of me, but only a passage from a temporary stay here on earth to an eternal existence with God. I believe that to be true and it gives me comfort and peace. As someone once wrote, if I am wrong and there is no afterlife then I will be dead and won't know the difference. But, for now, I find that promise to give me a freedom to live a life that is full and rich.
All that aside, I am tired of the rather constant knock of death on my door the last few weeks. After we reach a certain age, health discussions and the demise and death of family, relatives, and friends becomes all too common. I participate in a weekly ham radio gathering of those who love music from the 60's. Recently it has become a litany of medical concerns, operations, and illness. Instead of being called the 60's Net, we are joking that maybe we should rename our group the Health Net (and not after the company of the same name). In fact, the fellow who operates as the moderator of the group lost his mother suddenly just last week after a severe stroke.
I have read that one of the signs of maturity is an acceptance of the role of death in our life and the lessening of death anxiety. It is the last stage we all go through when death cannot be denied. From a a psychological perspective that may be true, and I do understand that at some point I will no longer exist on earth. After all, death is the only certainty of life.
But, acceptance? That is a tough one. I worry that acceptance means the person slips into a maintenance phase, doing little and risking less. It can mean the person begins to pull back so the pain to self and others is supposedly lessened, though I doubt that is true. But, I may very well be very wrong about the entire issue.
Andrew Kneier wrote a book, "Finding Your Way Through Cancer" on how cancer patients reacted to their impending death with rather consistent attitudes and experiences. They included, gratitude for the number of years the person had lived and for the positive life experiences they had enjoyed, a sense of pride in one's accomplishments or in the inner qualities the person had developed over the years, religious faith or spirituality, and loving and being loved.
I find those responses from people close to death to be immensely uplifting. They show me a new way to understand the state of acceptance. Death remains an uncomfortable thought. It is not a subject we want to face very often. I have seen, firsthand in the last few weeks, the grief and tears it leaves in its wake.
But, death is out there and will not be denied. We cannot let the reality paralyze us or cause us to deny our humanity. By the way, my health is excellent, I will celebrate my 66th birthday in two months, and I hope to live as least as long as my 91 year old dad.
Two thousand years ago Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, said, "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."