Reflections on death (boo!)
Sometimes life seems to get all tangled up or maybe life goes on its merry way and I get all tangled up trying to make sense of it. Either way, the last month-and-a-half has been a real dandy for this member of the Ayers clan. Not that you care all that much, of course, but I want to talk about it, so listen up.
All of us have experienced “getting sick,” and when this happens we fully expect to bounce back. My brother Don got sick around the first of September, and his wife, Conni, and his family naturally expected him to get diagnosed and quickly recover. As it turned out, recovery wasn’t in God’s flight plan for Don. We watched aghast as he endured major heart surgery, caught pneumonia, and died after suffering untold Intensive Care Unit indignities to his poor body in a valiant fight for life. Pffft! He was gone.
As I try to untangle my thoughts about death in general and Don’s death in particular, several thoughts may be worth sharing.
Death is still the enemy, even for a Christian. Perhaps in our times especially for the Christian.
Woody Allen famously said, “I’m not afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Our culture does its best to insulate us from the reality of death, and that is a bad thing. I was privileged to witness nine grandnieces and nephews whose wise parents lovingly refused to shield their children from the realities of death. For several hours the evening before the funeral mass they were with their parents in a room with an open casket joining in the tears and joy of experienced grief with their parents. They ranged in age from toddlers to teens, and I am sure they are the stronger for this important life lesson.
At the funeral mass they listened as the priest gave a strong witness to the reality of the resurrection for the believer. Were their tender psyches irreparably scarred by hearing words they in no way fully comprehend? I doubt it.
In an op-ed piece by Rob Moll in today’s Wall Street Journal, I read,
For many churches this week, there won’t be any Styrofoam grave stones, skeletons or spooky signs of death and decay. Instead of morbid celebrations of Halloween, there will be innocuously termed—and innocuously decorated—”Harvest Parties.” It’s Halloween cleaned up, made appropriate even for the youngest congregants.
But maybe that’s a wrong approach. Halloween, also known as “All Hallows Eve,” and All Saints Day (on Nov. 1) offer a rare opportunity in the Christian calendar to reflect on death. The holidays were intended to celebrate the communion of the saints, the spiritual unity of all—living and dead—who trust in Christ and await the eventual resurrection of their bodies.
This is the hope on which Christians stake their lives. But in a culture with deep fears of death and dying, even many of the faithful would rather avoid talking about the grave.
The hope of the resurrection is very real to me these days, as the number of my remaining days inexorably dwindles. I would like to think that there are many wise parents left who do not try to shield their children from one of the most beautiful and hopeful realities of life.
Dave, thinking that Halloween might be a good time to start.