pastoral/spiritual care

Death Comes for Us All

During one particular week in the summer of 2009, death was all over the news.  It was not death as we often see it in the papers, as lists of numbers or unfamiliar names of people who died in places we have never been.  These were four individuals who felt very familiar to us, who had been on the TV screens of our living rooms for years, some of them for all our lives.  The deaths of these celebrities provoked reactions of sadness for some, shock for others.  Somehow, though it happens every minute, death still takes us by surprise.

“Pale death knocks with impartial foot at poor men’s hovels and kings’ palaces,” said the ancient Roman poet Horace.  We saw the proof of it that week.  Fame and wealth did not keep those four stars from meeting the same fate as the countless others who died the same week poor and known only to those who loved them.  Death comes to us all.  As one of my seminary professors liked to say, “The mortality rate is still 100%.”  We know that on an intellectual level.  But we often go about our lives as if we had forever to live, as if we were somehow immune to that universal statistic.  Then something happens, like the death of a celebrity we adored as a child, and the truth hits home.  “If it can happen to him/her, it can happen to me.  It will one day happen to me.”

Such moments of clarity are fleeting for most of us.  Living in a total state of denial is not healthy, but neither is living with our own mortality hanging over our head like the sword of Damocles.  None of us knows when or how death will come for us.  Will we live to a ripe old age like Ed McMahon?  Will we succumb to a long terminal illness like Farrah Fawcett?  Will we meet a sudden and untimely end like Michael Jackson or Billy Mays?  There is no way to tell.  God, in divine wisdom, has not allowed us such foreknowledge. 

But what we do have is the power to live this day, this hour, this moment in a way that can make a difference beyond our own time on earth.  When we show love to another, make peace, offer forgiveness, bring joy to someone’s life, care for the earth, use the talents God has given us, sacrifice our own comfort for someone else’s, I believe our actions have repercussions long after our death, and even into eternity.  None of us is likely to get a primetime TV retrospective when we die, but the way we live now will determine if and how we are remembered after we cross that final threshold.

God, we fear death as a great unknown, but sometimes life is just as scary.  Help us to live today fearlessly, to take the risks that love requires, and to do what needs to be done now, while we have time to do it.  Only you know when our time on earth will come to an end.  You are the One who walks with us every day of our lives, and the only One who can walk with us through the door of death.  May the assurance of your presence even there bring peace to us as we look ahead, and to those who have lost loved ones as they look back.  Amen.

-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent

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