I am afraid of dying.
There! I said it!
Yes, I am ordained! Yes, I am a pastor. Yes, I am a shepherd of the flock, who walks with others down that final fork in the road “on this side of town”…and I am afraid of dying.
Yes, I can repeat all the scriptural platitudes about death and eternal life. Yes, I can preach a decent funeral sermon. It is what I have been taught. It is the foundation of my faith walk: that I was baptized into Christ Jesus…that the old creature in me died and I came up a brand new creature, alive in Christ!
And if I am to be totally honest (head bowed): I am afraid of dying…
This has been a topic between myself and a few of my friends periodically. We get on the topic and I am amazed to learn that there are people who are not afraid of death.
But I am not talking about death, and I wasn’t asked to write about death…I was asked to write about dying.
There is a difference.
The night my husband overdosed on heroin and finally came up out of that “deep sleep” and, as instructed by a friend to ‘get the coffee brewing and walk it off with him in the streets of the South Bronx’ , I remember him looking up at the sky and blurting out:
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky”…
(A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke)
I had no idea what he was talking about. Months later, while he lay dying in the hospital from pneumonia (complication from the HIV/AIDS), it became apparent what he was talking about. He was afraid of dying.
It really is that final frontier for some.
I don’t fear “death”. I know we all have to go. ALL of us. But it’s the way and manner, which fills me with dread at times, until I let go of it, understanding what’s gonna be, is gonna be.
Call it selfish – but I don’t want to die in pain. I don’t want to die violently. I don’t want to be snatched up up and away… I don’t want to die with my children unable to fend for themselves … I don’t want to die alone.
When I think about it, though…and begin to feel that anxiety coming on. I reflect back on two particular deaths in my congregation. I won’t mention their names, because you may know them.
- I received a call, round bout midnight, from the family – who had sat with their mom until the very end. Until she drew her final breath. They had called the funeral director and were too tired to wait until his arrival, and so they called me. Would I go to the nursing home, and sit with their mother until the funeral home director came to pick her up? Of course, I would…and I did. That was the first time I sat with a body for a few hours, in that darkened room with the small night light in the corner. Once I sat there, it was the almost the most serene atmosphere I had ever encountered. The funeral director came and with great care, took her away.
- The second and most profound experience I have had, was another woman, who was the first woman in the congregation to call me her “pastor”. She would call me during lunch, just to talk. Very lonely woman. She became ill and was hospitalized. I would receive a phone call about her. This one, much different. She was spiraling downwards…and the family asked if I would sit with her. I don’t remember if they had to work, or what the circumstance was … perhaps it was just too much for them. I went…and sat with her for hours. The nursing staff came in and explained all the machines and the numbers and exactly what was going on, as she transitioned from this life. I was soooo afraid. I didn’t know what to do. She was supposedly unconscious. I sat there with her and held her hand and sang and talked. And here is the interesting thing: after a few hours, her heart rate and respiration numbers would begin to go down & her breathing would become labored… I would get up and sing and rub her forehead…her numbers would go back up. That literally went on for about 3 hours.
I caught on to what was happening at the third hour…and prayed and when her numbers started going down again. I kissed her forehead and talked to her, sang her one more song…stood beside her, holding her hand and waited.
She passed away, so peacefully. Her face became so relaxed. The air in the room became so sacred, all I could do was to stand there for a moment and then sit down, as the staff came in and began to do whatever it is they do.
I left, and called the family.
As I walked to the elevator, I was remember saying softly under my breath: “death, where is thy sting?”.
It was one of the most beautiful and sacred experiences I have ever had.
when I get uptight about dying, I think back to those two experiences. I also contemplate the troubles of this world, and pray that there is a better place to come. I don’t know it for a fact, no one has ever come back to affirm that fact. No one REALLY knows.
Some of us know what the bible tells us, but truth be uttered……… We really embrace and hold on to our faith:
“because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1
Yes, I am afraid of dying … but not afraid of death.
We all have to go through to get to the other side..whatever that other side holds for us. *shrug*
I don’t have the answers.
Whatever and with whomever your journey may take, I pray you are not alone.
I pray for a peaceful journey for us all. And especially for you, Colleen, who has helped many women and cared for the homeless selflessly…
I pray a peaceful journey for you!
You deserve it – and I am confident SHE will be on the other side, with arms wide open.
I wish you a peaceful journey…and an eternally joyous time with those who have journeyed before us!
“You’re on my mind
and I wish you a peaceful journey
Colleen, I hope you hear me.”