Tuesday, May 10, 2022

On death and dying


Two very different funeral visits today. Every family, every life, every story, every act of hospitality differs from the next.

Two men, both with sons named Andrew, both of whose funerals will be conducted by another Andrew, in the same church, on the same day.

One had terminal cancer. Knew when it was time to stop fighting. Called the family together around him, told each one in turn exactly what they meant to him, said what he needed to say and then fell into a deep sleep from which he never awoke. Precious final hours together. This is that good death our whole lives are preparation for, and this act of love will be a comfort to his family. And while there are no guarantees regarding the circumstances of our death, we can plan for a good death, starting today. There’s a story in the Bible, too long for a funeral reading, of Jacob blessing his many sons, one by one, naming their strengths, and their flaws, before God, hallowing lives that will continue beyond his own. What blessing will you leave?

The other had Alzheimer’s. He also died peacefully, which is perhaps what most of us would want, but, in truth, few of us get. He had been, for many years, secretary of the local history society. Guardians of a collective memory that stretches back beyond living memory, and wider than personal memory. And it may seem ironic, and even cruel, that the secretary of such an august association should have his memories erased, one by one. And yet, this is a perfect metaphor, for none of us are ourselves unto ourself alone, we are all held in a network of archived, collective memory, of small stories of love that matter more than anyone looking in from the outside could ever understand. What stories hold you, when you can no longer hold on, to hold your mortal remains and your memory before God’s face?

Rest in peace; and rise in glory. In the peace and the glory of the One who is Lord of the living and the dead.


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