“Our culture simply doesn’t know what to think about death,” begins an engaging read by Rob Moll entitled The Art of Dying: Living Fully Into the Life to Come (IVP Books, 2010).
If you think me morbid for my interest in this subject, then this book was written precisely with you in mind! The title caught my attention, but even more the first few sentences on the cover: “Death will come to us all, but most of us live our lives as if death does not exist. People are living longer than ever, and death is partitioned off to hospital rooms, separated from our daily lives. Most of us find ourselves at a loss when death approaches. We don’t know how to die well.”
Both of my parents are living, as well as my husband’s father – and we have found it difficult to speak to them about end of life matters. In our current culture, it seems wrong somehow to discuss death…as though if we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen. And, let’s face it, death is an uncomfortable subject to talk about over dessert and coffee. However, since crossing the proverbial “hill” a few years ago, and as I see my youth racing past in the rear view mirror, the ability to relegate death as something that happens to other people is also past. Though my boomer generation has acquired the ability to look youthful for longer periods of time (they say 50 is the new 30) and to heal our bodies from all manner of illness, there is no other way out of this world – you and I will die if Jesus doesn’t return first.
I purchased and began this book days before I received the call from my sister earlier this month that she had taken my dad to the emergency room and that he would be undergoing a high risk heart surgery as soon as he was well enough. Interesting coincidence… While we sat in the CTU waiting room during surgery and for several days following surgery – we met several other families whose loved one was “under the knife” in an attempt to either save or lengthen their life. Surgeons, doctors and nurses were working round the clock to fix what was broken and bring life and health back to the ones we cared so much about. We shared stories, cried together and prayed together.
The thing about suffering and illness is that it forces us to face our mortality and to consider whether or not we are prepared for this inevitable event. It was very easy in this setting to ask those I met if they and their loved one know God and if they are ready to meet him. The Lord gently reminded me this week that the CTU waiting room was really not that different from the grocery or the ball field or the gas station. Everyone is facing death and eternity; some are just more aware of it than others.
Moll gives practical help in chapters such as “Gradual Dying and End-of-Life Care,” “The Christian Funeral,” and “Grief and Mourning.” Even though I grew up the daughter of a pastor, married a pastor, and have visited more hospitals and attended more funerals than I care to count, I confess that I have always felt awkward and ill at ease in dealing with death and the dying. I enjoyed (yes, enjoyed) Moll’s historical research on the Christian tradition of a “good death.” I also highlighted page after page of practical counsel on how to approach this taboo subject in the light of Jesus’ example, his victory over death and bodily resurrection. “Death…is not just a medical battle to be fought…nor [is] death simply about the loss of precious relationships to be mourned. Instead, this [is] a spiritual event that require[s] preparation.” I say Amen to that.
(Post by Penny)