I received the following article in my email inbox this morning:

Here is part of my response:  What a terrific experience!  I believe most people avoid the topic of death out of simple fear. Years ago I was impressed by a couple of books, The American Way of Death and The High Cost of Dying.  And, like you, Helene, I was taken with Atul Gawande’s 2013 book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. I also read his other three books and numerous articles in The New Yorker Magazine he wrote mostly on the topic of health care.  He has recently taken a new role with the conglomerate big four and you may have seen this:

I conducted numerous funerals and memorial services as an active pastor from 1962-1972 so I dealt with people struggling to make sense of other peoples’ dying and their own grief.  I also ministered to those in their own last days.  And, I learned more than I could ever have imagined.  Since then I have still been invited to help families through the death of a loved one, mostly by close friends and extended family members as a kind of unofficial chaplain.  My professional life took a turn toward education around 1973 rather than continuing in an active ministry in the church. I kept the credentials and the union card.

About that same time, I had an epiphany and I can tell you exactly when and where it was and what happened.  It was in a parking lot outside my office as I was driving home and I had to stop and process a kind of awakening.  I cannot explain everything except to say at age 46, I was invited by some kind of presence to accept my own mortality and in so doing the fear of death was no longer present.  It may be a kind knowing that death is just a fact of life and that we all have an appointment with death sometime, somewhere, somehow.  See Somerset Maugham’s story and retelling of “An Appointment in Samarra.”    We most often do not know when or where or how death will come although there are now ways of welcoming death in a more dignified, sensible and intelligent way. I have said for a long time that there are many things worse than dying and living in misery and pain is one of them.

I just conducted a memorial service for a nephew who died suddenly, unexpectedly at age 51, and of course you can imagine that most people were shocked beyond what they could believe.  It was indeed a tragedy for them, the sudden loss of a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and so the family is grieved beyond what they could have believed.  I tried to help them see beyond the temporary to the eternal, to the reality of what lasts forever and that is love.  As the Rabbit says to the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, once you are real you are real for always.

As a newly minted octogenarian, I am not without some health-related issues and one of them may well take me over to the other side one day.  That said, I deal with those and try not to let them interfere with living a full and rich life.  As evidence, we are nearing the last leg of a 7000 mile cross country trip (CA to ME and back) in our camping trailer with our dog, visiting family along the way, coping with some horrendous weather patterns but in spite of everything, having a grand time.  My wish for all of you is that you find your own way to put death in its proper perspective rather than avoiding it until it comes up as a surprise. As I have said previously and in many places, there are two kinds of change, planned and unplanned. Since change is inevitable, plan carefully.

(If you are interested in more on the topic of mortality, see an earlier blog here entitled “Mortality and the Gift of Time, Part II)

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