Monday, March 7, 2016

On Death and Dying: An #EasterGram Meditiation

Harriet Kubler-Ross's classic work, On Death and Dying, tackles a difficult topic the Western world refuses to ponder. We have a tendency to dress up death. We supply euphemisms (went to sleep, passed away), plan ceremonies, sew the lips of the departed shut, and wax eloquent about going to "a better place."

@KPahl89 #EasterGram #Death photo for @LeesburgGrace
Meanwhile, death remains a constant menace. We can run, but we cannot hide. Aging creams and antioxidants may slow decay, but they do not stop the inevitable. We all die.

For some death is a quick and unfortunate accident. For others it is a dehumanizing marathon of tubes, treatments, medical interventions, and surgical "last hopes." Ross considered death today "more gruesome in many ways, namely more lonely, mechanical..." (pg. 8) than earlier eras. We can sustain a low quality of life for a long time. But the body can only sustain so much suffering; the spirit eventually grows weak and unwilling to go on. And then death comes as "a severe mercy." Few go gently to the night.

Ross wrote, "We would think that our great emancipation, our knowledge of science and of man, has given us better ways and means to prepare ourselves and our families for this inevitable happening. Instead the days are gone when a man was allowed to die in peace and dignity in his own home. The more we are making advancements in  science, the more we seem to fear and deny the reality of death" (pg. 7).

I had the privilege of watching my mother-in-law die. The family convened for several days while she lay on her bed. Her breath was weak. Her murmurs quiet. Her bones showed through her shirt. But her eyes darted about the room, alert. And her hand gripped her children's, firm. She died with her favorite people within reach; we sang and said "I love you."

Nearly three years has elapsed since Marcie died. My wife and I visit her gravestone often. When the sun shines, my wife can see her reflection in the glossy stone. Glimpses of Marcie still caress this land of death and dying. But she is missed. Death leaves gaps and scars and empty spaces at dinner tables. (It also inspires blog posts, which is my wife's newest effort to maintain sanity.)

Family photo taken at Marcie's grave site.
As we each make our own march toward death -- prolonging our arrival with organic oats and BPA-free water bottles -- we must remember our lost loved ones, as well as the dust-trail legacy we leave behind. We all die.

Mortality weighs heavy on my mind at the close of every winter. For in the horizon looms Good Friday. On that day I recall Death taking its greatest captive on a Roman cross. On that day the crowd gloried in the stench of execution, and Jesus felt the sting of death. On that day, darkness covered the earth. "It is finished," Jesus prayed. He gave up his spirit and died for the world of death and dying.

Without a robust reflection on death and dying -- which we mock with each new zombie film and vampire series -- we dishonor the dead. Moreover, by robbing the grave of its victims -- with crematoriums and lucrative funeral processions -- we reduce the glory of the resurrection.

We all die. We must face the fact.

But Jesus rose again.

No comments: