How We Greet Death

Yesterday I picked up my Bible and it opened to Chapter 41 of the Book of Sirach. The first four verses of that chapter read

O death! How bitter is the thought of you
for the one at peace in his home,
For the one who is serene and always successful,
who can still enjoy life’s pleasures.
O death! How welcome is your sentence
to the weak, failing in strength,
Stumbling and tripping on everything,
with sight gone and hope lost.
Do not fear death’s decree for you;
remember, it embraces those before you and those to come.
This decree for all flesh is from God;
why then should you reject a law of the Most High?
Whether one has lived a thousand years, a hundred, or ten,
in the netherworld he has no claim on life.

Fitting words for me to read at this time: “Whether one has lived a thousand years, a hundred, or ten…he has no claim on life.”

My aunt is dying. In one sense, she has been dying for over two years: She was diagnosed in November 2009 with pancreatic cancer, the disease that killed my father (her brother) as well as my uncle (her husband), a disease that always kills. But in the last couple of weeks she has taken a very bad turn for the worse and it is now clear that we are nearing the end.

We’re never really ready for death when it comes. We always want more time with our loved ones. And we always think there should be more time, since we expect that everyone should live to a ripe old age.

It is good to be reminded that none of us have any claim to a particular life span. We all die. Some older, some younger, some from disease, some from natural causes, some from accident, some at the hands of another.

The consolation is that death – no matter when or how it occurs – always means return to full union with God. Death means resurrection to eternal live. And, in the case of those suffering as my aunt now is, death means the end of pain.