We place so much importance on life and death these days. Just look how much effort we put into medical research and the constant quest for longer life. Our ancestors, who lived shorter and much more precarious lives would be astonished at our modern day triumphs of science. For them death was perhaps more of an everyday reality, awesome, but common enough for them to treat it matter of factly.
I'm not questioning the gift of life. On the contrary, I have learnt it is precious, valuable and not a minute of it should be wasted. It is so fragile. But death holds such horror nowadays that few people ever confront their own mortality and most barely think of it. In our enlightened society it is a greater ‘taboo' than sex and it has become a guaranteed conversation stopper. People are so uncomfortable with death, look at the euphemisms and the words used to avoid it, for example.
But why? It's the one thing we all have in common - we are all born to die - oughtn't we to be able to share our hopes and fears about it? I think the reason may be that it is the greatest mystery of all time. Is there life after death? The fear exists because nobody has any firm answers, only guesses. Perhaps it should stay a mystery, to foster in us a healthy regard for life's joys, and make us use it wisely.
However, it is not that simple. We have been given a few clues and perhaps there are more if we choose to look for them. I sometimes despair that death is merely an oblivion, until I think of a beautiful sunset, an act of incredible kindness or some moving music, art or poetry and then I can’t help feeling that there has to be something that inspires such things. Then I begin to feel that if these are only hints of what is to come then the after life must be pretty wonderful!
So, my theory is this: death itself is probably just a means of making us value life, otherwise, as Hamlet said; we’d all top ourselves tomorrow to get to heaven more quickly! Life and death are therefore simply ‘rites of passage’ like marriage or confirmation. They are preparatory stages on a path to a fuller existence and hopefully greater happiness. I feel we should try to see them as a means of furthering our development and a source of opportunity for achieving good.
This is how I have tried to look upon my illness and death though it certainly has been harder than anything I imagined. Yes, I would have liked to have done a bit more in this life, but who’s to say I haven’t been saved a few mistakes and done more good than I would have had I reached the ripe old age of 123! I’m thankful to have been spared the slow decline into old age, maybe I’ll have more fun in heaven than I would have had here on earth. Maybe, in that mysterious, magical place, I will be able to read all the books written by man, see all the places I’ve never seen and be reunited with old friends and relatives who I’ve missed. I might even find the answers to some of the world’s puzzles; such as what Great-aunt Dorothea was really like!
My greatest hope is that I can make amends for wrong doings and that back here you will not grieve too much. However, these are things that I shall have to place in the hands of one greater than I can imagine, I trust that He knows best. There has been so much good in all this that I can only begin to thank Him and you for all you have done for me in so many ways.
Death is frightening, sad, terrifying and awful. But it can also be exciting, fascinating, beautiful and even funny! If you can’t be thankful for anything else, just think that at least I am going to get there and know the answer to the biggest question in humanity before any of you! Aren’t I lucky?
Written by Elinor Green (6.5.77 - 20.3.95)