My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.
Psalm 73:26 NLT
I’ve accompanied a few people through the final stages of their mortality. Though their body may grow weak, fading in and out of sleep and reality, I have seen them remain steadfast in spirit. Despite their self-evident frailty, they give off a sense of settled dignity. These have been close Christian friends so perhaps I’d expect to see such a positive departure. I hear other reports where individuals struggle badly and have a difficult death. This is not to do with the nature of the medical intervention available, but everything to do with their preparedness to say goodbye to mortality.
My first wife, Katey, battled a terminal illness for 18 years. I learned from her that death, while not welcome, was not an enemy to be feared and that conversations around the meaning and nature of death were advantageous. Sadly, “death” is a word that society is discomforted by, so we use metaphors from the dignified “passed away” to the inane “kicked the bucket”. Even a roomful of professional medics may struggle talking about and using the word death.
It’s strange that a subject that occupies so much of the Gospels and was central to the ministry of Jesus is one we instinctively avoid. Surely it’s one of the greatest grace gifts the Church has to offer in demystifying both the reality and process of death. Yet, death isn’t on many preaching schedules, except for talk of the cross and resurrection. It is foolish to ignore the fact of death. It is indeed encouraging to engage in conversation with others to surface fears and demythologise inherited assumptions. Once we have spoken and owned our mortality, we are better placed to respond to the psalmist’s invitation and consider how our heart, forged through consideration of God and his promises, might remain strong in the hope of the resurrection, something that has given meaning and shape to our life from the moment we first yielded to God.
Do you want your death to be a positive witness to family and friends?
Loving Lord, transform any dread of death to anticipation for the journey that will lead me to seeing your dear face and eternity in your presence. May l live well and die well also.