Staring down death

“Now when Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel was disturbed.”  2 Samuel 4:1  

Death scares me.  It always has.  I tend to believe that others are similarly affected.  Why else would car manufacturers make seat belts?  Why else would the makers of life preservers experience such steady sales growth?  Why would pharmaceutical companies be so rich, life insurance agents so busy, war protestors so vigilant?  It’s not that I’m afraid to die.  In fact, I would confess to having prayed for death to visit me on more than one occasion as a teenager.  The result of hormones or simple unhappiness, I do not know.  What I do know is that when I think about the accoutrements to death ( uncertainty, fear, wasting away with loss of mobility and function), I have to pray fervently to prevent myself from losing courage. 

Death is not pretty.  Neither is its process easy.  Pain accompanies it almost all the time, and when you’re alone and it happens to you, you may be counted among the most unfortunate of souls. 

Who hasn’t been disturbed by the loss of a loved one?  I know I have.  My first and most disturbing reaction to death came when my paternal grandfather died.  During his funeral I had to excuse myself to visit the powder room and there experienced my first ever panic attack.  It was not to be my last. 

I had not one, but two peers of mine come to an early end during high school–one the victim of a horse riding accident, the other shot by her brother while hunting together.  Both left lingering feelings of helplessness and peril that could strike at any moment.

When my paternal grandmum, Effie, was laid to rest, I didn’t attend the funeral.  I couldn’t.  I loved her too much to see her in that box.  Some people said I would regret not being there, not having that time to say goodbye. I never have.  I know I will see her again some day and that she understands my angst as she waits for me on heaven’s shore. Whether or not my family understands, I do not know.  I worked the day they said goodbye, and every moment of my shift was spent thinking of her. 

When my maternal grandfather, Walt Foulkrod, died of complications due to brain and lung cancer, I distinctly remember sitting at the dining room table in the same house where he was expiring and thinking, “I don’t want him to die, because the minute he breathes his last, everything changes for me.”  Does it get any more selfish than that?  I was young and scared witless about how my life could proceed without this strong, capable, stabilizing influence in my life.  I couldn’t image my existence without him.    

As the years passed, I became less “disturbed” by death, but no more a friend to grief.  By the time my grandma Foulkrod died I was strong enough in my faith to be able to sit by her bedside and watch her drift away.  A hospice worker tended to her personal needs, while family members talked about her life and remembered happier times from adjoining rooms in the house.  It was a surreal experience as I remember it today.  I couldn’t believe the calm assurance I had as I literally saw her depart this world, inch by inch, moment by moment giving up the ghost to the One who’d given her life. 

My father died earlier this year.  I heard about his fall and the broken hip from my sister.  I knew he would not recover.  I knew he wanted to die.  He’d made sure a living will was in place to allow him to do so.  He refused to eat, and honoring his wishes the staff at the nursing home where he spent his final days would not force him to take either water or food.  He starved to death. 

It’s humiliating that death has had so many opportunities to rob me of courage over the years.  I reckon the feeling is part and parcel of the pain that defined The Curse as God closed the curtain on Eden after man’s fall.  Still, it doesn’t make me happy. 

I had a dear friend that died a few years ago and seeing him waste away was horrendously painful.  I recently conducted a memorial service for Bob’s aunt and his father.  Tonight, I will go to visit another friend who has cancer.  One day, death will get us all.  I know that and it disturbs me, but it no longer has the power to immobilize me because I know what some have yet to discover:  One day Death will also die.  Assured of that fact, I will go to visit this friend.  I will smile and be as winsome as I can be.  I will pray every day for healing to come.  I will believe that God wants the same.  I will ask for courage as change washes over all of us.  I will assume the stance of a believer with her armor on.

I know how Ish-Bosheth felt.  There is a time for every season under the sun, and yes, a time for death.  I’m tempted sometimes, when death surrounds me, to lose hope and let courage float away from me on a sea of fear.  Today, however, I’m unwilling to give in to that temptation. I may not know what the future holds, but I most certainly know who holds the future.  That is enough.

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