Our Friend, Death (part 2 of 2)
by Patti Maguire Armstrong at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction:
Today, we will continue our look at death through dying, which we began in Part I, and consider how the Divine Jeweler will appraise us.
I actually had the experience of thinking one of my sons had died. When my husband Mark and I came upon our 14-year-old son, he was blue and not breathing. It turned out that he had a seizure and his breathing had been cut off. We were at a lake at a family reunion and it was the middle of the night. Our older son heard him struggling to breathe before he lost consciousness. Mark ran next door for help where his brother, a doctor, was staying. During those tense moments, Mark and I prayed separately. My oldest son and I prayed together and another son did CPR, which he had learned at boy scouts. Mark and I later learned that we prayed with the same thought in mind–that perhaps our son was already gone and it was too late. While we pleaded with God for to save our beloved son, we also acknowledged our acceptance of God’s will. Of course it was an emotional situation. My body shook with shock as I thought with horror that I had not even gotten to say good-bye.
Our son recovered within minutes and never again had another seizure. But our family was left with the experience of death. I told the kids we had been blessed for two reasons. One, our son and brother was still with us and two, we experienced first-hand what it is like to have death come without warning.
I am not in any way trying to lessen the shock and grief one feels over the death of a loved one. I know it is not a one-time feeling, but something that is grieved over and over again. But for Mark and me, the fact that we are in touch with eternity and try to live it, our first reaction to any death is acceptance—even along with the shock and grief. It is what keeps us grounded and helps us to share the same priorities: God first, everything else second and nothing in the way.
The Divine Jeweler
A few years ago, I heard on the news that former Beatle, George Harrison, had died. For some reason, on this particular occasion, I was immediately struck by the thought that now he was no different than a cleaning woman. His soul lay bare while his fame and fortune remained in this world. The only things he could take with him were the same things we all take with us—the love and service to God and others.
On earth, true value is often clouded by the glitz of the world, but death, like a divine jeweler, appraises life’s true valuables. I need the help of death to do this for me. For instance, I could be dropped into any department store onto any aisle (save the tool section) and find things I want to buy. Linens and towels? Suddenly mine seem so faded and thin. Furniture? Everywhere I look is something I like. One thing that helps to douse my materialistic inclinations it so remind myself that life is passing and nothing that I want to buy is of lasting value.
Someone much wiser than I once likened earthly life to a ship: It is the vessel, not the destination. The only reason we fear death is because we try to make the ship into the destination. That would be like driving across country in a car and then not wanting to get out once we arrived at our desired location.
Don’t think that I am above fearing death or that I’m looking forward to losing my loved ones. I simply have come to terms with the fact that God has promised us eternal life and that it will be better than anything we experience on earth. There’s only one way to get there—through death. And we all have to go sometime.
A favorite prayer of mine which keeps me grounded in this reality is “A Workman’s Prayer to St. Joseph”. Appealing to St. Joseph for a right disposition in our work, it asks for help: “…having always death before my eyes and the account which I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted…”
When the inspiration struck for this article, I envisioned that the topic would incite some to imagine me at my computer dressed in black with a humorless expression on my face. Some might wonder what sort of mother I must be to keep death on my thoughts. But instead, it is life that we strive for in our home. The idea is just not to confine ourselves to life on earth but to live in harmony with eternity. Only then do we live life to the fullest.