Accepting Death: Finding Comfort in a Belief in God


I am awake at an unreasonable hour due to a rare bad dream. The dream was unrealistic and something out of an exorcist episode; however, when I woke up, my first thought was towards a video that was forwarded to me. The video captured the death of some people in a car who were trapped in rushing flood waters. It was not the most appropriate video to forward and I deleted the message. I hate feeling like a spectator to such things.

The video resurfaced some death and dying issues I have been occasionally dealing with particularly after the sudden death of my young niece. Like most people, I am not unfamiliar with death and funerals but her passing was more bothersome due to her age and how sudden the body can go into distress without much forewarning. I thought I had made peace with the fear and accepted the inevitable of death but apparently not so well.

If you are a Christian, then you are familiar with the Bible’s occasional and scant details about life after death. For the faithful people,  they go to heaven where everything is rosy and the bad people get something else. As she laid lifeless, my thoughts were not about heaven or hell. The thing I remembered about the body of my niece was how empty she looked. There was no life and her body was just a stuffed shell. It is almost like a beautiful house that is vacant- it is no longer a home but a structure. I could not connect the person to the body. In my denomination, we interpret the Bible’s comparison of death to a person sleeping but the spirit is no longer there, the person is unaware of the happenings in the world and the spirit is at rest until the official judgment and resurrection day as talked about in Revelations.

The fear of death is prevalent in some cultures while in others, it is seen as a journey to embrace. I have to embrace some kind of positive belief about the afterlife in order to be at full peace with death.  For someone with Christian beliefs, that positive belief is in God. With the one year anniversary of her death about a month away and the terminal illness of my mother, the subject of death is very prominent and so is the subject of faith. I am not implying that I will be one of those who makes it through the Pearly Gates because my many sins are always before me. However, so is the ability to pray and I use it frequently. This is God’s show and I am just the player. Whatever the final judgment for my life, I cannot go through life with a fear of what is on the other side. It can become overwhelming particularly knowing that life is a gift that can be taken away at a moment. Plus, it is disturbing my sleep.

When someone is dying, he typically enjoys or cherishes the moments he has left. For those of us who do not have specific timelines, we freak and stress at the slightest things. I am very guilty. It has become standard practice that we cherish something more when we know we will lose it. I have never been afraid of living and I know that I have to restart my life and death  reconciliation. It is not an easy process being comfortable with the unknown, trusting the words of an age-old manuscript and having no eyewitness who can come back and give full details about life on the other side. It is just something I need to do by trusting in God. Everyone needs to have faith in something and God is my choice.

A quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi “Live as if you know you were to die tomorrow; Learn as if you were to live forever”

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No More Tears – Processing Loss


On Sunday, 19 June, Father’s Day, I was going about my life with a friend as we were enjoying a wine and music festival. I received a missed call and eventually listened to the message a bit later. The message (yes, I do have my cell phone message set up and I do listen to messages) was short and blunt that one of my nieces had died. She was a pregnant 23-year-old.

Please note that this blog entry is not about soliciting sympathy but processing loss from my view.

The first emotion was distress due to shock and the first thought was disbelief. I, as the auntie, who took care of her from a few days old to her earlier years expected that she would out-live me. I was expecting that she would have fond memories of me when I died not the other way around. I speak so casually of my death because I have had occasional thoughts about dying and death. It is an inevitable part of life and to ignore it is naïve. In this crazy world, here today and gone tomorrow is such a frequent recurring concept.

My place to be was with my family in order to share and support each other in this unfair and miserable situation. My distress was not comparable to that of my sister who loss her first-born and first grandchild. I felt helpless for her – my grief was pushed aside for her. Sadly, my sister and I had a tiff a few days before but in that moment, it was not about my loss but hers. It was an automatic response. As another sister said, we are family no matter the disagreement we had in the past.

My darling niece had a Facebook account so her younger sister and I used that medium to pass on the news. I made a subtle tribute to her and ever so slowly people started catching on that my family had a loss. My parents and her parents were fielding a stream of phone calls while her younger sister managed the Facebook inquiries. There is not much to explain when a seemingly healthy young woman suddenly dies.

I appreciate people’s condolences. I have always been a solitary person so, I am not comfortable with letting other’s know I had a death in the family. I prefer to grieve in isolation and letting a select few aware of what’s happening. However, what I prefer is in conflict  with what is the socially right thing to do so, in such instances, I defer to the latter.

I find myself being egocentric in this process. For me and my family, the loss and everything following is the most important thing now. For some ridiculous reason, I expect others to see their lives from our point of view. For example, I went on Facebook and was slightly bothered that some of the people who made condolences had already moved on to their regular lives. People were posting happy pictures (this was Father’s day weekend), funny jokes, political stuff etc. My tragedy was but a blip for them. The last time I was on Facebook before this tragedy, I would read and ‘like’ people’s pictures and posts. However, after the tragedy, I find most of those posts frivolous. I was not capable of extending myself to see their point of view about what was important in their Facebook sharing lives.

I am aware that life does not stop even for our family. I became more aware listening to the news about the people who died in freak accidents etc. I wondered what their families were experiencing at this ‘here today gone in a second’ event in their lives. I imagined the shock and disbelief, the notification to family and friends, the condolences phone calls, the explanation of what happened, the dealing with never seeing that person again, and the funeral arrangements. Interestingly, I somehow could not fully grasp what those families are experiencing even though I and my family are going through a similar situation.

The passing made mortality the forefront of my thoughts. Despite my tenuous relationship with God and Christianity, I never once thought of blaming God. I never thought of why us, why God allowed this to happen or any such things. “Shit happens” whether I like it or not and God already knows I don’t like this shit happening to us. People said they would pray for my family. Funny thing is I have not said a prayer in regards to this situation. It’s like an avoidance of this issue with God. Maybe I am expecting the prayer of the faithful to have more weight than mine. I really am not sure why I have not addressed this issue with God.

What does play in my mind are the what ifs. What if the hospital staff had done a better job when she was there a few days earlier. What would have happened if…? Did she pass peacefully? Did she know she was dying? What were her last thoughts in her last moments? Was there anything that could have been done differently? When I see the face  my  darling niece, the disbelieve comes rushing back. My sister wailed “she is never coming back” repeatedly and that was the kicker. The next time the family sees my darling she will be in a coffin-the breath of life gone. A shell of the person she used to be. I remembered that coffin view with my grandmother and it was a very difficult moment. The thought of her lifeless body is exceedingly distressing. I can’t imagine…

I am still in the early stages. My whole family is in the early stages. My sister, her husband, the remaining children, and not to forget my darling’s significant other will have a much more difficult time than I in the days, months, and years to come. I know there are more tears to shed and more disbelief and feelings of emptiness in the future. I will eventually come to an emotional peace that life continues for everyone. However, for myself and family who had a loss, life will go on outwardly as we learn to deal with the absence of one member of our family. The positive from all this is that I hugged tighter and said more “I love you” than I ever uttered in my 40 years and meant every word. Loss can either destroy or bring others together.

 

Fear of Death


(copied image)

Most people do not discuss this natural transition in life because there is a fear and uncertainty of what’s to be expected once we kick-the-bucket. Death is a scary thing! So, we invent the ugly tales such as the grim reaper, Dante’s Inferno, Satan poking you with a pitch fork, and all these other mythical things to make the unknown-more frightening?  The bible was not shy about introducing the subject; however, the only time churches talk about it is at a funeral or at the end of the sermon when the pastor is making an altar call (come to Jesus before it’s too late…).

My stance on death is that when people die they are compared to being asleep and unaware of what’s going on in heaven or on earth Ps 146:4; Job 14: 10-12. I don’t believe in transitional places like purgatory etc. I don’t believe that people go straight to heaven or hell before the resurrection (Rev 20) and I certainly don’t believe that there are ghosts who still spy on us after their demise-creepy.

Every now and then I find the idea of death scary because I believe I am not heaven bound. Some people may think they know for sure that their names are in the “Book of Life” but I am not one of them. Every now and then I find the idea of death welcoming because it gets me out of this ridiculous world-whether I am heaven or hell bound. I have my own objections about how shitty this redemption plan has been   set-up but having Christian beliefs, one has to accept that ‘it is what it is.’ God made the rules and we have to follow-like it or not.  I am very much aware that I could go to bed tonight and never wake up the next morning (hence my short morning prayer of thanks the moment my eyes are open). I am very much aware that death is everywhere.

We are all too aware of the ‘blink of an eye’ and life changes. This world is an equal opportunity world in which good things happens to both good  and bad people. Bad things happen to both bad  and good people. The one thing more scarier than being audited by the tax man is having the ‘angel of death’ after you. The bible does not indicate that we should be afraid of death no more than we should be afraid of sleeping. The one thing I have gotten is that the fear should be about whether we get to sit at the feet of Jesus or be destroyed with the original sinner. As a matter of fact, the new testament is saturated with the symbolism of death-Death to self, death to the world, death to sin.

The true purpose of death is to give us the ability to be reborn to something new and a promise of something better. To truly experience death we will not be able to come back and pass on the information despite all those near-death stories ie. the story of Lazarus at the rich man’s table. As survivors, we only see death from one perspective-loss, grief and mystery. So it’s very easy to be afraid, to be very afraid. The bible discussed this issue to perhaps help us to understand that there truly is nothing to fear or maybe that our true fear is not having the opportunity to have an everlasting life with God.

PS. If I am wrong, then the pie is in my face, we’ll just have to wait and see.