The undignified reality

death-and-lifeif you have recently lost a loved one… or if you are walking the end-of-life journey with someone right now,  this post might come across a little insensitive.  i’m sorry.  the last thing in the world i would ever want to do is make your struggle more difficult.   it definitely won’t hurt my feelings if you skip reading this today.  we’re friends.  i’ll get over it.

i have had the honor of being near a number of people as they walked through death’s door.   it happened again this week, as i lost a good friend.  he was 70 years old.  his two wives had already preceded him in death.   i’m sure he had outlived most of his friends.  pretty sure that’s what happens when you reach a great old age.

as it nearly always is,  the moment of death was difficult for the family that was present…especially the ones who were younger.  the instant when the last breath is taken can never be fully prepared for.   no matter how many times i witness it,  there are no words to adequately describe the feelings.  it is overwhelming.

i’ve read about…and even personally shared…in the end-of-life experience in another culture.  i think many of them do it better than we do.  most of the deaths i have shared here in our culture are strangely awkward.  and horribly undignified.   this person who was once full of personality and emotion and life, is reduced to a shell…sometimes barely hanging on for days or weeks or even longer.

the tent that once housed purpose and vision and love and faith is now empty and void.  it is often very ugly.  sometimes the person appears grotesque and looks nothing like what we remember.   some will say there is a quiet beauty found in the passing of life to death.  i’m probably not one of those.

so many times i have reminded family and friends their loved one is no longer there.  the essence of what made them human is gone…the body has been drained of its intention.  the soul and the spirit has gone to its final destination.   and that moment…that realization…is shocking.

some run from the moment.  they shut down.  they close off.  they move quickly to another place where the feelings can be suppressed or denied.  they will tell you that things are ok, but you they are not.  these folks need kindness and patience and room.

others emote uncontrollably.  the shock and sadness is almost too much to bear.  for some, IT IS too much and it takes years and years to reconcile their loss…if they ever do.

still others seem to move comfortably through the various stages of grief and go on about life in a healthy way.

no matter what our feelings and response to the death moment,  it is screaming for us to take notice.   for the one who has died, there is no more time to make changes.  there is no chance to make amends.  life and opportunities and potentials are over.  whatever was done and however life was lived,  eternity’s possibilities are now closed.

but not for the living.

as long as there is breath, there is time.  time to make things right.  time to answer questions and face doubts.  time to wrestle with issues of faith and reason.  time to decide if life is nothing more than a superficial crapshoot or a reality that is potentially full of purpose and design and worth and fulfillment that flows from the heart of a creator.

when we are teenagers, death is what happens in the movies or on video games (unless we are shocked into reality by an untimely passing).  when we are in our 20s, 30s and even our 40s,  we live as if we are invincible.  work and family demand nearly everything our puny hearts can muster.  death is simply not an option (unless, again, we are shocked into reality by an untimely passing).

when you get into your 50s and beyond, death cannot be ignored.  for crying out loud, people younger than me are dying all the time these days.  and though it is sometimes a surprise,  nobody is ever really shocked.  58 year-old guys die all the time.

i’m 59, btw.

death will never be my friend.  when it comes, i hope i look like i have a little dignity left.  or at least i’m still listening to some rock and roll in my earphones.  but the reality is,  if i hold on long enough, i probably won’t have much control over what i look like or what i’m doing.   (chris and corey…accept my apologies now.)

but i have no fear.  my confidence is in god’s word and his promises that have proved true time and time again over the course of my life.   there is no doubt that jesus came to give me life.  death will merely be a change of venue.   how cool is that?

so what about you?  if you’re reading this,  you’ve still got time to make things right.  what’s stopping you?

2 thoughts on “The undignified reality

  1. I lost two grandparents, close grandparents, during my teens. I don’t really remember how it felt other than that I hated (and still do) to see my mother cry (they were both her parents). I moved on, became a “man” and never felt that sort of grief again until I married Dara. I’ve been to a few funerals with her (her family) and the same feelings surfaced…did NOT like seeing her parents cry. And then my friend’s child dies. This was a whole new kind of pain. My friend had triplets: one perfectly healthy and two very sick. The only male of the group died very, very young (at about a year old). I remember thinking I just had to see his tiny body at the wake. I don’t know why, I’m not a morbid kinda guy. But I did anyway…I looked…and regretted it (in some ways) from the instant I saw his little corpse lying motionless. I remember more how if felt to hug my friend afterward than I do how his tiny boy looked. We had dinner that night, and several drinks, and tried our best to remember Andre. He was a year old. It was awful. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy (and I don’t have any enemies). Then, fast forward many years, my best friend (besides Dara) died. It was sudden, his father called me at work. He found his son slumped over a chair on his patio. He was gonna marry his girlfriend. He was brilliant, kind, and loving. Braden was a tortured soul. I left work immediately, bought a pack of cigarettes, and fell apart in a parking lot as I told Dara over the phone that Braden was dead (she was close friends with him too). I barely made it home. Took one look at her on our front porch and almost collapsed. His father asked me if I would call Braden’s friends in Texas to give them the news. Those phone calls were the toughest calls I hope to ever make. I was a mess. I called my parents and through some incoherent sobbing, told them the news. I went back to school the next day. I had to. We flew out to California the following weekend to witness his memorial. I cried. A lot. I remember his mother hugging me and asking me how we would get through it. We? What about you Laura? Braden is your son, he was my friend. Other friends who made the sober journey, Dara, and myself shared stories in the two days we were there to bury our friend. We drank alcohol, we laughed, and we cried. For several moths afterward I would fall apart while cleaning the dishes or folding laundry. Certain songs were no good. Certain foods were no good. Certain memories were no good. It took many months before I could make it through a service at North Point without crying. I still do from time to time. I saw Ross in the bathroom one particularly hard Sunday with bright red eyes. He comforted me as any friend should and could. I don’t harbor any guilt for Braden’s death (he died of a drug and alcohol overdose), but I still know I spent several years fully aware of his addiction and did nothing. Nothing but hide from him because it was too painful. For me, too painful FOR ME! How selfish could one person be? Oh, and Mike met with me at a Taco Cabana patio to talk, and listen. I talked, he listened. I knew then that Dara and I were in the right place at North Point. Now that I am a father of two boys, beautiful smart boys, who could just as easily as Braden did, die at a tragically young age, I don’t worry. The good news is that Braden’s death has brought me to a clearer understanding of who Christ was and is. I don’t live in fear. I don’t over-protect my boys. I give all the confusion, pain, fear, and worry directly to God. Sure, I may hold on to them tighter when they let me, but I want my sons to live and love as Christ lived and loved. I think about Braden daily. I miss him. I love him. I always will.

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