I grew up in a family that was only one generation away from the farm. Like people in most traditional societies, my grandparents grew up in a community where funerals happened in the home, where the bodies of loved ones were dressed by hand, where death was integrated with life.
Two generations later, I live in a society that, for all the violence on our news and in movies, is squeamish about actually discussing death. Our relatives don't "die," they "pass away," they "pass on," or we just "lose" them. (E.g., "I lost my grandmother that year.")
The results? Death no longer seems part of life. And when someone close to us dies, the reality of death becomes even more overwhelming. Because we haven't been able to talk about death with others, we face it, in a deep emotional and spiritual sense, alone.
I believe that church should be a place where we can talk about death. We need to talk about our beliefs: what happens when we die? What lives on?
We need also to talk about the practical questions: How do we get help when someone in our family nears the end of physical life? How can we afford health care and the like? What does the law say? Where do we find nurses and other helpers?
Here's a common Christian theological idea: Death came into the world because Adam and Eve misbehaved.
That is not my personal belief. For me, death is not a punishment, but a natural process. God's intention was always that things are born; they live; and then, when they get too old or too sick, they die - so that new things can be born.
Rumi (a Muslim poet from the 13th century) says this:
Death is a coming together.
The tomb looks like a prison,
but it's really release into union...
Your mouth closes here
and immediately opens
with a shout of joy there.
For me, belief in death as a "release into union" makes me calmer and braver when trying to think about the practical, financial, and legal questions of caring for myself and my loved ones as they near that "coming together."
What better place can there be for confronting together the realitiesof dying, than the church?
That's why I'm delighted that a group of our members has organized some conversations about death—the spiritual and the practical aspects of the end stages of life.