Big questions about death

None of us likes to think about death, and that isn’t necessarily bad.

Our every heartbeat blocks out death, pushes it away, and keeps us focused on living. That’s nature and God working. And this denial of death stems too from the fact that, in the end, we don’t die, don’t become extinct, but move on to deeper life. At some level, we already know that, sense it, feel it, and live life in the face of it. To want to think about death can be as much a sign of depression or illness as of depth. Pushing away thoughts of death is normally a sign of health.

But there are times when faith asks us to look death in the eye. Classically, the churches have asked us to do that at the beginning of Autumn; as the seasons change we see a lot of death going on in nature and we see light itself diminishing as the days grow shorter and there is less and less sunlight.

The Book of Maccabees says that it’s a healthy thing to pray for the dead and the Church tells us that, every so often, it’s healthy too to think about death, both by remembering those who have died and by contemplating the reality and certainty of our own deaths.

But how to think about death? Where is that thin line between contemplating the mystery of death and falling into morbidity, anxiety, and false guilt about being alive and healthy?

Honest prayer can help us walk that tightrope and is what we do when we bring ourselves naked before God, unprotected by what we do, own, have achieved, and by anything else we have to fend off loneliness, fear, and death. In honest prayer we can be deep without being morbid.

Death is a journey into the unknown, the ineffable, the unimaginable, the unspeakable – unspeakable loneliness, ineffable embrace, unimaginable joy.

Ronald Rolheiser
Reflections on Death

Further reading

Additional Living Well Dying Well resources to help you support someone in your network who is facing death.

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