“We must make ready for death before we make ready for life.”
When I decided to share a quote on death this week, I didn’t think it would be such an occasion for self-examination.
There are some who spend time thinking about death because of an obsession with it. Their morbid thought pattern tends to go ever deeper into death as the very antithesis of life.
But most of us avoid thinking about death.
For some an aversion to thinking about death goes hand in hand with seeing little meaning in life. We are going to die anyway, and thus go out of existence, so what is the point of life? Or, a variant of this view: we are going to die anyway, so we might as well live it up now. This latter attitude might at times look like a true zest for life, but ultimately it, too, shows itself a despair about the goodness and meaning of human life. Either of these two views has good reason to avoid thinking about death.
Then there are some, among whom I count myself, who in theory have good reason to think about death but in practice avoid it. I have to be honest: whenever the thought of my own death comes into my consciousness, I pretty much dismiss it as something to be reckoned with later. The thought of my children (to say nothing of my wife), facing the middle-aged, and thus ostensibly ‘pre-mature,’ passing of their father is so traumatic for me that I tend to banish the thought.
My avoidance thought pattern, I’m happy to relate, does not go so far as to omit purchasing life insurance. But I think I let this step of material preparedness actually stand in for a more fundamental spiritual preparedness.
How then should I be thinking about my own death? I know that there are some who spend a fair amount of time thinking about death, including and perhaps especially their own. And this because they have such a deep love for and confidence in the beauty of life. I am going to reflect this week on the disposition of such people, do some more self-examination, and next Wednesday share what I come up with.
Seneca (died 65 AD), was a Roman Stoic philosopher.
Image: Rembrandt (1606-1669), self-portrait
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Your honesty is really encouraging to me to engage in a similar process of reflection. I, too, avoid thinking about death, but in my case, I can’t even claim that I’m very well materially-prepared!
I certainly appreciate what you are saying, Anonymous.
As I am about to turn 70, and am not in the best of health, I find myself constantly mulling over my impending death, not so much about how the loved ones I leave behind will cope with my absence (which I trust will work out in similar fashion to the way my life worked out after I lost loved ones), nor about exactly how I will die (slowly or suddenly, peacefully or painfully), but rather about what this thing called death really is, this change of state I am about to experience. I strongly suspect it is not simply oblivion, but all we have to point toward what might otherwise happen to us are symbols and metaphors. Kierkegaard seems to be on to something when he indicated that eternal life cannot be conceived, only believed.
Newton, You raise some great points. The impenetrability of the after life to unaided human reason has always fascinated me. It is remarkable to think of the situation of the great ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They had complete confidence from the evidence of human reason that there is an afterlife. But just what it would be like was something they found quite beyond their ken. Even so, they did have confidence that life after death would have important continuity with how we have lived in this life.
May your ruminations on death and the next life be blessed.
Since I am a member of our parish’s Bereavement Ministry (we call ourselves the Arimatheans), I spend some time with the family of the deceased in our parish, helping them plan the service (music, readings, etc) and find this very uplifting, actually. And it helps me put death into perspective. Since I’m reaching my older years, it’s not an uncommon passing thought, but I think of how MY funeral mass is going to be. I think that how I think of death is in a very healthy way, actually. Thank you for your thoughts on this “delicate” subject!
Ginger, What a wonderful, wonderful ministry. As you indicate, I’m sure it is blessing both to the others and to yourself. We can all look for opportunities to exercise such a ministry by assisting in the ‘burying of the dead.’ Thanks for sharing.