Make a friend of death

Our Friend, Death (part 1 of 2) 

by Patti Maguire Armstrong at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction:

The death of Francis Xavier by Johann Joseph Kauffmann

The death of Francis Xavier by Johann Joseph Kauffmann

As the saying goes: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  But taxes you can avoid and evade; death–not so.  Therefore, the only logical response to death is to embrace it…or at least accept it.  After all, it’s not like we have a choice.

While traveling back from dropping off a son for college in Oregon a while ago, we attended Mass in Missoula, Montana at St. Francis Xavier Church.  During the prayers of intercession, one prayer caught my attention: “For all who have died, for all who are going to die and for all who are afraid to die.”

That last one–all who are afraid to die–stood out for me.  “Isn’t that just about everyone?” I thought.  Yet, many years ago, I realized there was only one thing to do about death—to make a friend of it and think of it often.

Life through Death

At first glance, thinking of death seems morbid.  Death hardly seems like a cheerful thought for the day.  But I contend that it is just that—or at least it can be a holy way to get through the day. And with holiness comes peace and ultimately joy. The opposite would be to try to deny death. That would be a depressing and hopelessly futile endeavor.  Death is coming for us all so the sooner we make peace with it the sooner we can get on with living.

In the book Amazing Grace for Surivors (Ascension Press) there is a story titled “The Gift of Cancer.”  In it, Richard J. Cusack, Sr. says that God gave him the greatest possible gift. “It was cancer and the fear of dying,” said Cusack. “Through that gift He woke me up and showed me what life is all about and how wonderful it can be when you begin your journey closer to Him.”

Cusack recovered, but during the time he believed he was at death’s doorstep, he prioritized his life very differently than it had been previously and he also began a ministry. “One Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. he was sitting in a perpetual adoration chapel, thanking God for all the extra time he had been given. ‘Before I arrive at my final judgment, is there something I can do for you here on earth?’ he asked God. ‘What would be pleasing to you? He suddenly had an inspiration about making a beautiful holy card with a monstrance on the front and the words, ‘Do you really love me? Then come to me. Visit me before the Blessed Sacrament.’” His first printing of 100 cards quickly ran out and requests for more poured in. Since that time, Cusack has distributed tens of thousands of these cards.  It was death that was the inspiration for such living.

Several years ago, I was speaking with Elizabeth “Beth” Matthews, a favorite author of mine who contributed stories to the “Amazing Grace” book series.  She was in the middle of yet another move, dealing with all the usual hassles and then some.  Beth related to me a phone conversation she had with a relative. “In another hundred years we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter,” she had said.

Her relative was taken aback and said, “Oh Beth, don’t say that.”

But Beth responded:  “Why not? It’s true.”

I understand that such a thought is actually not depressing, but freeing. Death puts everything in perspective.  Instead of fretting over some irritation, it reminds us that indeed, soon our life on earth and life’s inconveniences will be nothing to us.  It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, whenever I was upset over some trivial thing:  “Will it matter in a hundred years from now?”

What if death was on your “to-do” list today?

I once read of a monk that was working in the garden when he was asked what he would do if he had one hour left to live.  The monk calmly stated that he would not do anything differently, he would continue working in the garden.  Many are surprised at such a response since most of us would immediately drop to our knees and pray. But for this monk, he strove to live every moment for God. Thus, he was always ready.

We all know people who spend inordinate amounts of time at work and have many possessions, but don’t go to Mass. If they knew they would come face to face with the Almighty that afternoon, would they change their schedule for the day? Or parents who run their kids all over town for activities, but don’t bother to take them to church on Sunday.  If they suddenly learned their child was going to die very soon, would the priorities change?

In Part II, we will continue our look at life through death and consider how the Divine Jeweler will appraise us.

Read more:

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31 Responses to Make a friend of death

  1. GC says:

    It reminds me of what my mother used to say to us years ago when we were small children and had become grumpy over what seemed like the family’s “rough justice” towards one of us:

    “Cheer up, we’ll soon be dead,”

    I’m not convinced it’s the best thing to say to a young child, but it did have something like the desired effect on us.


  2. johnhenrycn says:

    I truly am not afraid of death. Death knocked at my door (just a faint tapping actually) earlier this year and my thoughts were along the lines of: “Oh well”

    What I am truly in fear of is dying suddenly. I would far prefer a painful process than a sudden one. I pray that God grants me that.

    If I was a better Christian, I would opt for sudden death, but we are who we are.


  3. toadspittle says:

    I had what I thought was a foretelling of death a year or so ago, and my reaction was similar to that of JH – “Oh, well, I’m over 70, mustn’t grumble. I’ve had a good innings.” (very British, that)
    But, unlike him, I hope for a sudden death – dead before I hit the ground, if possible. I dread senile dementia more than anything. (too late, possibly, some might suggest.)
    But it takes all sorts, dunnit?

    Hopefully off topic: Don Santiago Is ill, so no Mass here tomorrow, we are told.
    Not good news.
    That’s how it will be permanently when he’s dead, very likely.


  4. kathleen says:

    I think what most people fear is not death itself – as we all know that this is inevitable – but rather a “living death”. A long painful agony, or a gradual decline of all one’s faculties, especially one’s mind, being bedridden and a burden to our loved ones, are all naturally frightening and distressing thoughts.

    But for those who do suffer such a fate, they can ‘use’ this time of gradual decline to offer invaluable sacrifices to make up for their past sins and those of others. IOW they can turn something sad into something beautiful for God. It is time off Purgatory afterwards too, and apparently no suffering on Earth is as ‘painful’ as suffering in Purgatory.

    Senile dementia is on the increase in the West as we live, on average, longer and longer. It is certainly a terrible thing… but much more so for the families who see their beloved parent, aunt, or whoever, steadily lose their minds; for the sufferer seems to become unaware of what is happening to them!
    There is a lovely hymn to Our Lady in Spain where the person calls on their Heavenly Mother to remember them and stay by their side “even if/when I no longer remember You”. It always brings tears to my eyes when I hear it.

    Toad, a sudden death is the greatest of misfortunes, except for the souls who are totally prepared to meet their Saviour (like the monk in the description above) and it is something we should all pray not to befall us. To be able to make a last Confession and receive the Last Sacraments is such a blessing. We can then pass from this world to the next one in perfect peace. Into those Loving Arms that await us.


  5. toadspittle says:

    Death is a bit of a crap shoot then, Kathleen. Like a lot of other things.
    If you die too fast to confess – goodbye Charlie.
    I see. Makes sense.


  6. toadspittle says:

    “…apparently no suffering on Earth is as ‘painful’ as suffering in Purgatory.”</i.
    So the heavenly punishment will be far greater than any earthly crime. OK.


  7. kathleen says:

    We shall have to wait and see, won’t we?!

    But the painfulness we are told we shall undergo (note that I put this word up there ^ in inverted commas) is because, having already had a glimpse of Heaven, and probably the Beatific Vision too, there is a desperate longing to go there. The Souls in Purgatory are not suffering the pains of Hell – they know that through the Mercy of God they have been saved that – but their suffering is on account of their past sins, their many wasted opportunities, and their deep longing for God.


  8. toadspittle says:

    “We shall have to wait and see,” is practically Toad’s watchword, so it is cheering, albeit a trifle surprising, to hear Kathleen employ it.

    We have no coherent idea of the afterlife. Some say this, some say that.
    Maybe we will find out when we are dead. And maybe we won’t.
    We just don’t know, because nobody has so far reported back.

    In the meantime, let’s not get carried away, let’s lead decent lives, be kind to other animals (even including humans) cultivate our own gardens, exercise our minds and bodies regularly, not expect or hope for too much, and not waste time looking too far ahead.

    (Here endeth the pompous sermon.)


  9. johnhenrycn says:

    Excellent insights from Kathleen about end of life. As for Toad, well…the Final Scene and my/our hopes for a cue from Stage Right that it’s about to start is not just about wishing to make a good Confession and to receive Extreme Unction, although those are unarguably (for me/us) the most imperative considerations. Kathleen mentions some other vital ones. On a more pedestrian level, forewarning of death affords the precious opportunity of getting our more or less shambolic affairs in order, of saying goodbye, of making final amends, of writing the letters and blog comments 😉 we’ve always meant to write…

    Off to Mass now. Shall say a prayer for Don Santiago.


  10. GC says:

    Toad 07:10
    In the meantime, let’s not get carried away, let’s lead decent lives, be kind to other animals (even including humans) cultivate our own gardens, exercise our minds and bodies regularly, not expect or hope for too much, and not waste time looking too far ahead.

    Yes, Toad, and now lets all have a nice cup of tea and some biscuits.


  11. GC says:



  12. toadspittle says:

    …Earl Grey and Digestives. Yum.

    But you are, as usual, right to subtly chide me, GC. It is not my metier* to instruct Catholics on how to behave. Not on CP&S, at least. That’s their metier.

    *”Dieu me pardonnera. C’est son metier.”
    (God will forgive me. It’s his job.)
    – Heine.


  13. johnhenrycn says:

    No doubt Heine knew French, but on his deathbed one presumes he spoke German, and that your quote, while possibly accurate, is a second-hand one by a later wag who attributes it to Heine, but who wrote it in French, much like I write this other one by Heine in English, but which he originally wrote in German in his Last Will and Testament leaving a legacy to his wife:
    “…on the express condition that she remarry. I want at least one person to be truly bereaved by my death.”


  14. toadspittle says:

    While JH’s comment above is, to Toad, at least – virtually incomprehensible – the end bit about the will reminds him of a comment made about Carlyle’s “difficult” marriage: “It is just as well Thomas and Jane wed each other – or else there would be four unhappy people.”


  15. GC says:

    I have heard that line said a few times, but more recently, Toad. Had no idea it was about Carlyle originally.

    I think the sentiments expressed by Sister Maguire may lead to the White Vestment mindset; that a requiem mass is really just a “celebration of the entry into eternal life of Mavis Phipps”. Well, we never know that it is that, really, and it also encourages us to completely skip over the purgatory bit. The whole praying for the Dead thing goes out the window.

    I prefer to think of the death of anybody, including mine and even Toad’s, as a tragedy of of the highest order. One feels that it is totally undeserved and should never happen; even that it’s against the natural order. Black vestments convey this idea exactly as do prayers for the dead. Ms Maguire’s ideas do neither of these, I feel,

    I also fear that the Bishop of Rome’s address yesterday, with his death is behind us, in front of us the God of the living idea, will lead to even less regard for the deceased souls in Purgatory.


  16. kathleen says:

    Some perspicacious thoughts from the Biltrix on yesterday’s Gospel, that our Toad, in particular, might benefit from:

    “Our simple minds simply do not fathom the reality of the afterlife. When we rationalize and try to calculate too much about things that are way above our heads in order to figure it all out, we may run the risk of converting to skeptics, like the Sadducees.


  17. kathleen says:


    I’m more inclined to think of death as a “tragedy” to those left behind, who mourn for their loved ones who are no longer here in “body and soul”. You and I have both lost our mothers recently I believe, and the ache of not actually being able to see, touch and hear these beloved ones, is admittedly painful, even with the benefit of Faith in the afterlife, thanks to the Sacrifice of Our Blessed Saviour.

    But surely, for the one who has lived a good faithful life in Christ, death is no more that the gateway to our heavenly home for which we all strive to reach one day. (Even if a short stop in Purgatory might be necessary first!)

    I also fear that the Bishop of Rome’s address yesterday, with his death is behind us, in front of us the God of the living idea, will lead to even less regard for the deceased souls in Purgatory.”

    Good point. However much we trust in God’s Mercy and Love, we should never complacently just assume that those who die go straight to Heaven. It is our duty – for those of us still on our pilgrim journey on Earth – to pray for the deceased, our loved ones and others, who might still be in need of purification before entering Heaven.

    [Edit. What I meant to add was: yup, shame the Holy Father didn’t add that on at the end of his speech!.]


  18. Brother Burrito says:

    Indeed, Kathleen, none of us should approach the veil of death with certainty of our own salvation. Self attained certainty is a highly over valued commodity.

    Our only real certainty can be in the Mercy of our Divine Saviour, which is infinite.


  19. Toadspitttle says:

    “Our simple minds simply do not fathom the reality of the afterlife.”

    Of course our simple minds don’t!

    That’s what I’ve been repeating on CP&S until I’m no longer green in the face, and have a frog in my throat!
    We don’t even know for sure if there is an afterlife.

    So it’s advisable (in my opinion) to stop trying, and speculating, and fretting, and worrying, and moaning about if we are going to die in an untimely fashion or not – and be sent to Heaven, or Hell, or Purgatory, or Limbo, or Hades, or The Underworld, or The Happy Hunting Grounds, or to even forced to watch Fulham Play at Home for All Eternity – and make the best of this life while we can.
    Walk that dog! Enjoy! Already!
    (Toad, you’re preaching again. Stop it! Not your job.)


  20. GC says:

    Then a lovely fresh cup of tea and biscuits, now that we’ve got this life business sorted, thanks to you, Toad, doo doo doo.


  21. Toadspitttle says:

    What’s up with you these days, GC?
    Your comments to me are getting to be just dopey, mindless insults, like Burro’s and JH’s are.
    You, at least, used to have some nice sharp teeth.
    I don’t mind the tea and bickies crap at all, it’s harmless, but that’s the point – there’s no fun batting back marshmallows.
    It’s boring, is what it is.


  22. Toadspitttle says:

    Mind you, if that’s you in the video, I take it all back.
    Doo, doo, doggy doodoo.


  23. kathleen says:

    “We don’t even know for sure if there is an afterlife.

    Ah, but we do Toad. (You wouldn’t be an agnostic by any chance, would you?)

    What we don’t know for sure is where we are going to end up!
    We can be on the right path, and then lose our way.
    But also, there’s the possibility of being on the wrong path, when the Hound of Heaven catches up with you, and leads you onto the right one.

    GC is a bright girl, and what you call her “dopey, mindless insults” are, in fact, very clever retorts, and just what you are asking for with some of your dopey, mindless comments. 😉


  24. GC says:

    You don’t remember Des’ree, Toad? I think she was born in London, like yourself. She was quite popular in the 90s, although in a poll the song above was found to have the “worst lyrics ever.”


  25. Toadspitttle says:

    What a shame. GC. I thought that might be you, in a video made on your “mobile cell phone.”
    But then, I’m sure you are much nicer looking.
    Never heard of Des’ree, sorry to say, and though I was not born in London, I lived there a very long time, up until the 90’s. However, I don’t recognise the part of it shown there.
    Probably Brixton, though, from the vegetatation.

    And no doubt you are every bit as “bright,” and engaging a girl as Des’ree, as Kathleen attests.
    Although I increasingly keep hearing the words of Dr. Johnson (great man but, sadly, a Prot) ringing in my ears as soundly as if he had boxed them into there himself: “Nought but a blockhead ever wrote, but for money.”
    Well we all do this for nix, don’t we. Blockheads, the lot of us.
    The unpaid hours I do, do, do put in on here!
    My reward will not be on this earth. Nor will it for any of us.


  26. Toadspitttle says:

    Well, of course I’m an Agnostic, Kathleen, and – also of course – that’s why my comments (and insults) are mindless and dopey.
    At least I’ve got an excuse.


  27. johnhenrycn says:

    “Doo, doo, doggy doodoo.”

    Glad to see you’ve actually read Lou Reed’s obit in last week’s Economist, Toad, except it says the actual words were “doo de-doo de-doo”, but it won’t do to repeat lyrics here that refer to mescegenetic liasons, as those ones apparently do. I tried to offer up a wee little Heinrich Heine ditty yesterday about what Jack got up to when he took Jill up the hill, and I got a thumbs down! First time ever on CP&S ! As they say down Alabama way – “That dog don’t hunt.”
    Unable to watch GC’s last YouTube link which is “unavailable in your country”, but which I guess sheds some more light on the origins of the “doo doo doo” thing – or thang.
    Anyway, I’m about half way through BB’s video Ghoulies and Ghosties. I’ll let you know how it turns out.


  28. GC says:

    Strange that, JH, as Miss Des’ree, though London-born of Guyanese and Barbadan parents, is now a citizen of Edmonton, which I think is not all that far from Niagara Falls. I notice she went to Camberwell College of Arts, which I think could have been Toad’s alma mater (?). (That’s what they say in North America, don’t they?) Funny, you’d have thought that they would have certainly met there.

    You may have better luck with this youtube link, JH. Enjoy (?).

    And, Toad, I like to think I had at least a few désirée moments in the dim distant past.


  29. Toadspitttle says:

    No Toad was at Ealing Art School, now defunct, (Government cuts, too many hopeless unemployables like Pete Townshend and Freddy Mercury being turned out) where he studied under Auerbach, now considered Britain’s greatest living painter. (too much boring autobiography,)

    Anyway, may I be presumptuous enough to suggest that after your success with that “mobile cell phone video,” GC, you do do do another one – based on the produce of the vast marijuana plantations of your beloved Brixton – where you demonstrate, on camera, how to roll a “mega zonkin’ ganga spliff” as I suppose you would call it.
    Interesting and educational for the rest of us. And religious to Rastafarians, so that’s all right.


  30. johnhenrycn says:

    “Toad was at Ealing Art School…”
    Speaking of death and art, here’s a lovely and moving painting by Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) combining the two, which he named Over Eternal Peace:


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