Death has got a bad name. I am not talking about the process of death. If that has a bad rap, it is well earned. But death itself, that moment of crossing into eternity, is looked upon with dread. And why? We really do not know what it is like. Maybe we should be looking forward to it with longing.
I have been reading a book called “Final Gifts.” It was written by several Hospice nurses. It is a collection of their experiences with death, both the process of and the moment of. Their experience is abundant. They give a whole new understanding of death. They tend to take away fear. I think the book is a must for anyone seriously ill or a caretaker of a person who is.
It was not so long ago when denial was about the only recourse when faced with death. Death was always spoken of in the second or third person. You are going to die, he is going to die, never I am going to die. As an old man, the philosopher Saroyan said, “I have always known everyone dies, but I always thought they would make an exception in my case.” These nurses point out that death does not have to be denied. It is a part of life, a rich part. It does have its difficulties, but so does every part of life. Remember your first day in school? That was no walk in the park.
A very rich person is visited by friends and family who express their love as they never have before. Pain can be controlled. It may take some effort, but it can be done. The dying person knows that he is waiting for God. He is getting closer. At the moment of death, He is there, in the room. We who are present stand in awe. We will never get closer to God on earth than at that moment.
We do not need to deny death. Death is a part of life. And all of life is rich, even the last part.
- Fr. James O'Leary