Friday, November 1, 2013

Are you ready for the Time of Death?

        Americans hide from the reality of death, even though it is in everybody’s future. Today, on what Catholics call “All Souls Day” or “Day of the Dead” a new documentary is premiering on Showtime titled "Time of Death" which will take viewers inside the last days of a group of Americans with terminal diseases. It will show us all the reality of the dying process.
I have been there. 
In a span of only three years, I held the hand of three beloved family members at the very instant they died. The first was my father; the second, two years later, was my mother; and the third, a year after that, was my mother-in-law.
I felt blessed to be there in that moment. Even though I experienced the weeks leading up to death as hard; so very hard.

Yet here’s what I learned:

The process of dying is difficult, and often not pretty. The person has become a shell of the person you remember. There is a certain odor —not distasteful, exactly, but one that you will ever-after recognize. A person’s final breaths may sound harsh, raspy.

The morphine needed for pain control may render the dying person comatose, so you hold the hand of someone who no longer responds to your voice.

And yet…and yet…the actual moment of release—when the soul or spirit or whatever the essence is that makes us human—when it leaves the body, it does so gently, like a small butterfly wafting away from its empty cocoon into the warm waiting light of God.
Because I experienced this three times, I now feel a peaceful tranquility about death. As I ponder the moment of final passage, I recall the words of the poet Tagore: 
“All the treasures I’ve gathered during my lifelong preparation, I’m now arranging for the last day, to give it all to death—the day death comes to my door.”