Originally published on October 6, 2022 in the Castlegar News (A23)
In recent days, I’ve been thinking a lot about death and I don’t know why.
It might be the death of Queen Elizabeth that made death such a public conversation. It might be recent conversations with my aging parents as they prepare to downsize and move to an apartment. It might be the recent funeral I had a chance to officiate at, walking with a family through preparations and, of course, the service.
Death is something we’re never prepared for when it arrives. Even if we’ve made all the preparations we think are possible—our wills, or powers of attorney, sorting through the contents of our home, making notes or preparations for what we would hope to have in our funeral or celebration of life—death always catches us by surprise.
One of the things that I learned in the wake of the Queen’s passing is that her funeral has been planned for years. And it got me thinking about my own preparations: what songs I’d want sung, what readings I’d want read, who I would like to preach good news even in the wake of death. And so, this is a process that I’ve started for myself. To write these things down, to share with my loved ones the desires I have (at least in this particular moment).
With any luck, I’ll be around for a long time. With any luck, and by God’s grace, I’ll have the chance to see my children grow up, and to see who they are now blossom into whoever they will become.
It feels weird to be thinking about these things, and yet they have been much on my mind. Perhaps it’s my desire not to be a burden to folks when I go. Perhaps it’s my desire to be in control (even beyond the grave!). Or perhaps, it’s my way of helping to communicate how I’m making sense of my life, of who I am, and of who I have been becoming over these years.
Death is one of those things we find it hard to talk about. For those of us who believe in life after death, and for those of us who don’t, we sometimes get squeamish when talking about these things. Visiting my parents a few weeks ago, I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable when they were showing me where all of the important paperwork was kept. I wanted to walk away. I wanted to exit the conversation. And also, I wanted to be present, to hear what they had to say, what they valued, and what they needed me to know.
But more than that, this conversation has offered me time to reflect. To give thanks for my life, and the life of my parents. This conversation has offered me time to reflect on the gift of life that we get to experience, in all its beauty and splendour, joy and confusion.
Blaise Pascal once wrote, “in difficult times, carry something beautiful in your heart.”
And that is what I’m committed to do. To embrace the realities of life and death, to embrace the beauty of this new day, and to commit to walking with people who want to work in life both to live, and to prepare for death.