Editor’s Note: This is the first column in a series on dying.
Some years ago, when a beloved mentor of mine was terminally ill, I asked him what it was like to prepare for death. He told me it was lonely.
I was surprised by his response because he was always surrounded by family, friends and former students. When I asked him about his loneliness, he told me that the dying process is so unique that few could understand it. He said that his only source of consolation was his faith in Jesus Christ.
Death is humanity’s question, and it can be a purifying one. At different times, we each think about death, and at other times we each seek to avoid it. Since everyone will die, the enduring inquiries about dying, death and the afterlife continue to provoke curiosity, fear and hope.
These are our questions because they touch our lives, and the end of our lives. Because of their seriousness, they deserve attention and some resolution within us. What is death? What is meant by the dying process? Is there an afterlife? In whom do I place my trust?
The conclusions we reach on these final questions will shape and help determine the way we live and interact with life and its joys and difficulties. They will actively influence the way we approach the dying process. In approaching these questions, will we allow them to be answered by our faith in Jesus Christ?
My mentor was a man of faith. In his last months, his Christian answers to these questions gave him consolation. As he had lived in Christ, so he sought to die in Christ.
Death appears to be a contradiction to the life we lead now. It seems to be at odds with our will to live. Death claims to relativize our freedom that we cherish above most things.
These stark assumptions can oftentimes cause us to see death and dying as a terrible evil. We fear that we must permanently let go of everything and everyone that we love. Within the forum of this restlessness and anxiety, we have to answer our questions.
If we place our trust in the Lord Jesus, then we see that death has lost its sting and starkness. We unmask the lies surrounding death, and hope destroys fear. In Christ, we are able to see the full reality of human existence, during and after this life.
By our identity in Christ, we see that life is a journey, and death is a process. And while death and dying may be difficult, the Lord Jesus can remove our anxieties. Death does not need to be an ultimate end or final good-bye.
If we allow him, the Lord will claim us as his own, and by the power of his resurrection, death becomes a transition that only initiates a new phase of life that leads us from glory unto glory.
Father Kirby, the parochial vicar of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, is currently studying in Rome.