Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Sooner or later in a blog like this, I've got to write about death. Because it's something we all, will have to face.

However, I find I wrote about death last week so this will be my second post about it. Oh well.

I will never forget an email I got early in my web net era. The writer, a young woman, wrote:

"You are correct about starvation killing us. What I want to know is, how long does it take to die of starvation? You see I stopped eating a week ago."
In my usual manner, I was reading email in the early hours of the morning and I stared at that one for several minutes, a feeling of horror creeping over me. Something about it led me to believe she was serious and really wanted to end her own life. I wrote back what might be called a collection of "bromides" (what DO you say to someone who is intent on ending her life?). Like "you have your whole life ahead of you" and "can anything be so bad that death is preferable to living?" and so forth. I never heard back from the woman so don't know if she was reaching out in her final hour or if she aborted the plan. I hope, of course, the latter.

We all have seen death in the movies and TV many times. I'm sure you are familiar with the scene.

Bad guys (and women) die quickly, usually by accident or gunshot but since they have no personality, we don't worry about them.

And good people die lying there, either in their beds or on the street. They have a serene look on their faces - some even seem look wide eyed at the other side of the room suggesting they have seen an angel coming to get them (and in many movies, people are SHOWN on the other side, walking in a beautiful field of flowers toward a golden horizon).

Church tells us we should work and pray for a Holy Death. Which is basically what the movies are showing us. A beautiful death where we smoothly transition from life to eternity. In the "Hail Mary" we ask Jesus' mother to pray for us during the two most important times in our lives.... NOW at the moment -and- at the hour of our death.

Trouble is, being 63 years old, I'm beginning to see some folks around me die and their deaths are anything but the movie variety. They are angry, they often fight with their families and a greater number than we would like to think, commit suicide by stopping consuming liquids and food.

A relative in our family who was dying of cancer, told his wife "Come on let's get on with this" and he stopped drinking fluids. He rallied for a day when some of his siblings came to visit him and he ate some popsicles but then the day after they left, no fluids again.

A priest friend of mine had two personas. One was the kindly elderly priest - what most people who knew him saw. The other was the one I knew, an angry disappointed man who wondered every day whether he had made the wrong life decision. A man who was so angry, he felt he couldn't face his anger and told me he distracted himself when he started thinking about it. "Has that diminished your anger?" I once asked him. "No" he admitted.

I felt it's always better to face one's fears and anger because that's the only way to get rid of it. One of my favorite poems is "the litany of fear" from Herbert's Sci Fi book, DUNE:

"Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."
Of course, men tend to suppress their emotions and he was no exception. On the contrary. He did not take my advice about this, and so, instead of facing his fears, he got increasingly angry and afraid inside. And it began to, I believe, take its toll on him physically.

I guess I hoped he would come to grips with his life situations which really were not bad - he had lived a long full life and I thought a nice retirement and resting for his last years when he really could pray and spend time with God getting ready for the big passage (and interceding for the many people in the world who are needy), would be the ticket.

But that was not to be. Instead he starved himself more and worked feverishly to avoid thinking about how angry and afraid he was inside.

"My greatest fear", he once told me, "is that when I face God in death, I will reject Him!" I thought that was ridiculous - who would say "no" to God. He looked sad and said I didn't understand. And I guess I didn't.

But God in His Mercy, must have thought that a real possibility because as it turned out, he had some kind of stroke and was so confused before he lost consciousness forever, that he undoubtedly didn't even THINK about refusing God's mercy.

And I suppose in a way that tells us just how merciful God IS but geesh, this is NOT how you want to see a priest die!

I am remembering a saying I once heard "most men live a life of quiet desperation!"

I have seen one lady die a Holy Death - she was a patient named Anna whom I visited a few times to give her Communion. And I was not with her when she died but I saw in her face, when I visited her the last couple of times, real beauty, breathtaking beauty. Almost like a luminescence shining out from her face. I bring those I go to visit, treats like candy or small gifts (magazines etc) but to this lady, the greatest gift I could give her was praying the Rosary with her. One time she made it through (and this was difficult because she was very ill). "We made it through," she said, triumphantly in her weakened voice and touched my arm with her frail hand. "yes, true" I said, smiling at her beautiful face.

The last time I visited her, three days before her death, she was too weak to say a Rosary so we said a couple of "Hail Mary's". I gently took her arm and said "Anna, you know I love you!" and she said "Yes I do and I love you too".

A couple of days later, her daughter called to tell me that she had died. I felt great serenity about her death because when I saw her, she was on the threshold of Heaven.

But most I have seen die, do not die Holy Deaths and some die definitely unholy deaths but God in His Mercy will reach out to us all and I guess that's as inspirational as seeing someone die a Holy Death.

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