Years ago I wrote a blog post about death and dying titled: Death Becomes Us. I basically said that we live our best lives in the constant awareness of death because it is then that we take nothing for granted. I’m a bit older now and that much closer to death. I’m also in the midst of watching my eleven-year-old beagle lose the function of his hind legs. My sister is struggling with late-stage breast cancer. My friend watched her husband die from brain cancer. My parents are elderly and not in the best of health. I have to tell you… I definitely do not feel like I’m living my best life in this constant awareness of death. And I can’t help but wonder, what is this some kind of cruel joke or something?
It has always freaked me out a bit — the fact that someday I will cease to exist I asked my husband this evening what is going to happen to Snoopy. He has suddenly aged quite rapidly. He can’t hear, can’t walk, and can’t seem to wake up from his very deep slumbers. My husband said something like: “He will just die, like our bird did years ago. He will just fall over and die or never wake up.” I have been extremely fortunate because thus far I have not had to watch a human loved one suffer and die, but if my reaction to my parakeet years ago is any indication of my response, I’m in big trouble over here.
I remember the day vividly. I was cooking rice pudding in the commercial kitchen in my home where I had a food manufacturing business. My co-worker Wendy was with me as always. We were going about the usual routine when I suddenly heard a plop. My parakeet Honey had been ill, and I knew that sound was coming from the direction of his cage. I stopped everything and stared at Wendy and said: “I think Honey died,” and I went into a panic. I asked Wendy to go into the room and check because there was no way I could handle the sight of my beloved bird dead on the bottom of the cage. Wendy was not a fan of birds, so she went in and confirmed my fatal assumption. She kindly put a towel over the cage and removed it from the house while I proceeded to mourn instantaneously. My little, feathered friend who sat on my shoulders and kissed my cheek for over ten years was now lifeless at the bottom of his cage. I ask you, how on earth am I going to handle a human death?
Beyond the concern of the dreaded grieving process is just the gnawing question of the meaning of it all. These beings — human and otherwise — that we are and experience life with simply must be more than matter. We are dust and to dust we shall return is actually a hope-filled statement because dust in the cosmos is in a constant state of conversion and renewal. Likewise dead and decaying organisms contribute greatly to the carbon cycle in a process that generates energy and life. These are scientific facts that speak to the intellect and seem to somehow make sense albeit their miraculous process. Everything seems to point to death followed by new life. Each new day, season, and year are reminders of the process of endings and new beginnings. St. Paul knew that long before modern science affirmed it. He said: “. . . just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life
” (Romans 6:4). It’s a promise that not only comforts me but gives meaning to life, death, and suffering and great hope for my high-spirited soul.
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