Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Death



I think I've mentioned this before, but I don't have any problems with the topic of death. Some people are bothered by it or afraid of it or afraid of talking about it, but I am not one of them. While I miss my loved ones when they pass on, I feel very confident that I will see them again.

I actually enjoy going to funerals. I may not enjoy the reason I'm going, but I love hearing people reflect on a person's life and sharing stories and experiences involving that person, and generally a funeral celebrates a person's life and brings out the very best that person had to offer in his or her life, and I like that.

I am not afraid to die. I do not feel any reason to fear. Death is just a part of life, and a temporary one at that. We're all going to die someday. Tomorrow. A month from now. A year from now. 10 years from now. 40 years from now. It's going to happen eventually. None of us can escape it or outrun it, so why spend any energy or fear trying?

Even if heaven doesn't exist (which I very much believe it does), well then, we're just gone, so why fear that, either?

I think no matter what we've done in life, the afterlife will very much be a place filled with love and knowledge and goodness. Dallin H. Oaks once said, "The good people of the world will not be disappointed by the terrestrial kingdom. The bad people of the world will be utterly astonished to do as well as the telestial kingdom, for despite all of its relative drawbacks, it is a kingdom of glory reserved by a Father in Heaven who loves his children and ‘saves all the works of his hands." I feel good about my life. I have few regrets or unfinished business. I feel like I have done my best to live a good life, and I feel confident that wherever I end up in the afterlife, I will be happy. So what is there to fear about that?

I am not uncomfortable talking about death or talking about preparations that might make death easier for those one leaves behind. The other day my mom and I were going over some paperwork her lawyer had prepared for her involving power-of-attorney issues, health directive issues, and her last will and testament. As is usually the case, Mom finds it all very uncomfortable and depressing to talk about, and I have a hard time comprehending why. It was the same type of thing when she and I went to get her burial arrangements done. She just doesn't like talking about, and so sometimes it's difficult to get much input on what her last wishes might be.

My sister-in-law came over while Mom and I were going over her papers. Like me, my sister-in-law has no problem talking about death or dying, and she and I started talking about these issues. Mom finally said, "This is the most depressing conversation," and both my sister-in-law and I were genuinely confused about why people feel that way.

I'm a very pragmatic, practical person. I want Jonah to know exactly what my burial wishes or health issues are. My sister-in-law and I both agreed that we don't want to be kept alive just for the sake of family members who aren't ready to let us go? Why should they be so afraid to let us go? It's only temporary as far as I am concerned, and keeping us around in a vegetative state isn't going to do either of us any good.

Mom wants to be kept alive as long as possible. That's certainly her choice, but I have a hard time understanding it, although I will respect and abide by it if that's what she wishes. If one is suffering, for example, why does one want to remain in that state if one doesn't have to? And isn't that just making it harder on those who have to watch you suffer? On the flip side, I also don't understand those who can't let their loved ones go, even if they subconsciously know it would be for the best.

My sister-in-law and I talked about how cremation is a viable option for us. For me, I like the idea of cremation because it's more economical and environmentally friendly, and the romantic in me likes the idea of scattering my ashes somewhere cool. And if one believes in resurrection (which I do), then putting us back together should be a breeze for a perfect and all-knowing Heavenly Father.

Jonah does not like the idea of cremation. He wants somewhere where he can go to properly mourn me. I told him if he feels that way, he can put my ashes in an urn on our fireplace mantle and mourn me every day if he likes. But the fact is, I'm not actually in that urn. I'm not in that hole in the ground. My mortal remains might be, but the essence of who I am is not, so why should it make a difference where or how my body is buried or disposed of? Just as Jonah says that God is not confined within the walls of any church, my spirit is not confined to my mortal remains, so it shouldn't make a difference. And why mourn me? I'm not gone forever. It's just a brief time in the cosmos away from one another.

I get why we mourn people's passing. We love them, and when they leave us, it does leave a hole in our lives. But it shouldn't be a surprise that it does happen and will happen to everyone, nor should we let it prevent us from living the best lives we can while we still have them in mortality.

When my grandfather died, for example, my grandmother stopped living for a while. Oh, her body was present, but she chose to live in gloom and melancholy for years, and it wasn't until my cousin was born (when new life entered her life) that she was finally able to live life more fully again. I understand she loved my grandfather very much and felt lost without him, but I also think of the many years she wallowed in self-pity and sorrow and wonder if she was really honoring his life by refusing to let go of his death. Was she doing him or herself any favors by refusing to move on.

My father died while I was on my mission. I did not go to the funeral. I was far away in Europe doing work which I felt was important, and which I know my father felt was important. Some people I've encountered are surprised I didn't go to the funeral and say that it must have been hard not to be able to attend. I hope it doesn't sound cold or callous, but, no, it really wasn't. I loved my father very much, and while it would have been nice to attend, the fact is my father was not in that casket. Yes, his body was, but he wasn't. I think I honored his life more by doing something he felt was important and honored the lives of those I was serving by continuing to help the living than I would have been able to do by attending his funeral. He knew I loved him. I knew I loved him. And really, what more could I have done there by actually being physically present that I wasn't already doing by honoring the memory of his spirit?

I am convinced, too, that I felt my father's presence while in church the week after he died. I felt his hand on my shoulder as strongly as I had felt it when he was still alive in mortality. My dad was as much with me as he ever was in mortality.

The fact is that people sometimes have this idea that heaven or the afterlife are somehow far, distant, unattainable places. I believe the spirits of those who have past on are right here with us, and I believe, too, that when we are really in tune, we can feel them and, yes, even sometimes see them.

I think of how great it will be to be reunited with those that have passed on or to meet those we never knew in mortality. What a great thing that will be! And what wonderful things we will learn and feel on the other side. I truly believe that.

I do hope when I die, it will be quick. While I am not afraid to die, I do not find the prospect of a slow, dragged-out death filled with a lot of suffering too appealing. Whatever the Lord has in store for me, I'll have to take; but I would much rather fall asleep one night and just die in my sleep or die instantly in a car crash than lie in a hospital bed drowning in my own fluids for months and months on end while my family watches me slowly waste away.

But I don't suppose the majority of us don't get to choose how we die. As for me, right now I feel like I have so much to live for, so I'm not eager to die any time soon, but when it is time, I don't believe I will fear it, and I hope it's quick.

If you were uncomfortable reading this topic, my apologies, but I see no reason to be, either.

2 comments:

BGM said...

I found your thoughts and views on death quite refreshing. A girl I vaguely know died recently and it left me considering my own mortality and I found that I'm not afraid of death. My fear comes for those around me coping with my passing. That is why I think it is only right and proper that death can be spoken about, so that we can all be at piece with it both the day arrives.

jen said...

I'm like you. I don't fear death. It's just a part of living.

There was a time in my life that I prayed for it. Wanted to die to escape the pain of living. In my darkest times, I remember a friend telling me it was okay if I took my own life. He would miss me, and he would be sad, but he didn't expect me to keep living and suffering for him. I've never had anyone say anything more empowering to me: It's your life. You choose what you do with it. REALLY. It's all your choice.

Now, I enjoy life - I'm not afraid of death, AND I want to LIVE for as long and as fully as I possibly can.

I did "take issue" with talking about your grandma (after your grandfather died) and it took years for her to finally live again. Maybe it wasn't doing him any favors. Maybe it wasn't honoring him the way you would like, but maybe it was EXACTLY how she needed to live and to heal. Those years weren't wasted.

I don't believe the time I spent wishing for death was wasted. It is NOT how I want to live my life today, but it is exactly how I got through and to this place.

I like the idea of cremation as well, but I figure once I'm dead, I don't care what they do with my body... I'm going to be dead. My funeral and burial won't be for me, they'll be for whoever is still here.