19 June 2006

thoughts on mortality

I have seen more death & dying in the last two weeks than ever in my life. (This is not exactly surprising, since I had never seen anyone actually die before.) I don't know what, precisely, I expected, but I have learned a lot about my understanding of death.

We are all going to die. This is the single, unavoidable truth of human life. However we might understand what is to come after, our lives end. Our breath ceases. We die.

But, we can choose how we approach death, for ourselves and for the people we love. Dying can happen in many ways. The loss will affect us regardless, but the death can be approached generously. There will always be pain and regret that we carry with us, but we have a choice about how much grace we're willing to accept.

There are many ways of dying, and just as many ways of letting a person die. As for me, I want to be at peace with death when he comes for me. I want my family to love me, miss me, but also to let grace in to ease the pain of loss. I want to die peacefully, rather than in fear and struggle.

For some families, because of circumstances, this is not possible. There are wounds and divisions that have not been healed. There are dreams and plans that cannot, if death comes, be realized. There are words that cannot be taken back, or cannot be said. When things remain undone, both the dying and those left behind find it much harder to let go. Death seems final, as if we lose all chance of reconciliation.

For myself, death is not the end of life. It is the end of this life, but it is not as if a door slams shut. Even faced with death, we can still express the grief and regrets that shadow our hearts. We can say goodbye and God speed. We can forgive and be forgiven. Death seems final to us because it is the end of what we know, but, for people of Christian faith, death holds the promise of life to come.