I have some clients, a family, that is for lack of a better word, falling apart at the seams. The father is currently in remission, two years removed from prostate cancer and the mother is two years into an end of life progonisis that says she has one to five years left to live due to a debilitating disease, the name of which I can’t recall. She is literally falling apart in front of her children. She has lost fingers and teeth and she is slowly losing her ability to swallow.
The 19 year old has dropped out of university and is now facing a number of charges pending a court date and the middle son, a 15 year old, has behavior so volatile and extreme that he has been expelled from two private schools. His parents have recently signed a form called a “Temporary Care Agreement” that has placed him in the care of the state for a period of 28 days until the issues in the home can be addressed to the point where he can return home.
This family has a number of issues with plenty of blame to go around. However, the one issue that has not been unaddressed and of which I believe to be a central component to a significant number of their problems is the lingering presence of death that has weighed upon them for the last 3 plus years. A presence that still sits amongst them, the mother’s broken and failing body evidence to the denial that is taking place within that home- that which is undiscussed.
Mom is going to die.
In a brilliant piece in the periodical “First Things Mag” entitled “Outsourcing Death”
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/05/08/outsourcing-death the author Miles Mullen II states that:
“In the first half of the nineteenth century, most Americans were intimately familiar with the process of dying. During that time, most Americans died at home, attended to by their relatives. For Christians, a good death meant passing peacefully into the presence of God with family and spiritual counsel close at hand. Singing hymns, reading Scriptures, dispensing wisdom, and praying while a loved one expired punctuated a good Christian life.”
This reflects a stark reality that for the majority of us is alien and unfamilar. As the author recounts in that piece, we have been distanced from death. Our culture finds death, the dying, offensive and thus we hide them away in hospices and hospitals, anywhere but in front of us, reminding us of our finitude, yet as much as we shun death we are obssessed with it.
This family has no such luxury. There is no where to hide. Like a character out of the hugely popular series “The Walking Dead” death is walking amongst them.
This luxury, or what we at least believe to be a luxury, is that most of us avoid the end of life question until we have no choice- until we are confronted with it, and even then, like this family we attmept to run away and avoid it, so confronting is the unknowable abyss that stands in front of us.
Anyone who claims to know what’s on the other side is arrogant or at best foolishly deluded. Whether that belief be our present cultural definitions of heaven or atheistic belief in the certainty of nothingness.
It is as Volatire once said
“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one”.
I do not believe that a human being on a journey that continues to reveal mystery upon mystery can unequivocally say that they never once doubt their beliefs about the afterlife whether that be in the form of gold paved roads or 10,000 virgins. I believe that even the trigger finger of a suicide bomber waivers if but for a brief check-in of self preservation and asks the question:
“Are there really 10,000 virgins?!”
I recount a training I went to about five years ago for a wonderful organisation in Phoenix, AZ called “Compassion In Action”.
“Compassion In Action” is a Christian organisation that engages with its local LGBT community not as an evangelistic outreach but simply to walk with those members of their community who society has deemed the “other”, the “outcast”.
They ended up starting this ministry when it was revealed that the founder, named Steve, mother in-law, upon facing an end of life disease, confessed that she was a lesbian and wondered if “God still loved her”.
Steve recounted episodes where he was at the bedside of dying friends who long before having accepted God’s unconditional love, were holding on to this reality by sheer strength of will because in that moment between their beliefs and the revelation of truth they doubted. They were scared.
Doubt is a fundamental part of the human experience and thus the journey of faith. One can hardly have complete confidence in yourself and your abilities for your entire life in as much as you can unquestioningly predetermine the reality of the afterlife. What a deluded and ego filled proposition that is.
Exclusively you, of course! Out of all the great minds that have contemplated this question throughout history you alone have the answer. Yet I think we can all agree that death and what comes after is a truly once in a life time experiential moment and that really, we’re all grasping at straws. Attempting to find and make our own certainty out of uncertainty.
I have no answers for this of course. All I can rely on is my experiences. Not with death, but life, the meaning of life captured in abdunance, marked by that which we call but fail to truly understand- LOVE.
My experiences have shown me that at the heart of the universe there is a creator filled with abundant love, a joy that one can’t contain, a knowledge of our hearts that is better than what we know of ourselves and a grace that exceeds our comprehension and despite experiencing all of that, at times-
I still doubt.