Death is not one of my favorite subjects. It’s right up there with pain and domesticity. Several weeks ago I listened to a short interview with Richard Rohr. “If you had one minute to speak to the world, what would you say?” was the question. To my surprise, he said he would encourage people to draw close to death, to the dying.
What kind of advice is that? I shook my head a little and moved on.
But something about his words stuck with me, like a message stirring deep inside of me. I mulled them over, pondering, questioning, wondering. What is it about death that makes it both a detestable subject and potentially life changing for the living?
For one, it’s uncomfortable. There is so much unknown, like a big grey cloud of nothingness surrounding the topic. Even if you have faith, belief in heaven and hell, have an understanding of an afterlife, hope for something beyond this earth, our knowledge is extremely limited. It’s scary to think on something we can’t control, predict, or know for sure what will happen.
Now, what about all that is life changing? I’m coming to an understanding that death will change each of our lives, and that before we die. Whether we choose to admit or acknowledge it, death and its scents are all around us. Cancer. Chronic pain. Abortion. Car accidents. Heart attacks. Emergencies. Overdose. Tsunamis. Fear.
If you live for even a short time you’ll come across it. My great-grandma died last year. My 3 year old cousin when I was a little girl. It’s not something we can escape.
Death has the power to rule our lives through fear, suspicion, and even avoidance. We can live in denial, run from the dying, hide from pain, numb ourselves to the destruction and darkness, pretend that such a word or reality does not even exist.
Or, we could draw close to those who are dying. People we love. In that place where a person’s life, breath, body comes into question, those surrounding have an opportunity to enter into pain, together. When we come into vulnerability, we are moved. Beyond the mind, the rational, the understandable, we are ushered into a new understanding of grace, community, hope, love.
Time becomes precious. Priorities redefined. Life, how ever much of it left, becomes sharped, clear, real. Drawing close to death could actually help us live.