Today let me speak the unspeakable; the one topic that is always avoided; the one word not shared in polite company. No, not sex; at one time sex was never spoken, and now it is never silenced. The unspeakable and always avoided word today is DEATH! That’s a word always spoken with hushed voices and furtive glances. It is near universally silenced and kept locked away in our universal denial. Even today’s funerals are “celebrations of life.” No one is even dead at funerals. Death is the No. 1 scandal of our time; if we accept its inevitability and face its approach, we must admit that the last words we’ll hear from this world are, “I’m sorry, that’s all we can do.” For all its boastful claims to eternal bliss, the world lies.
Even our Christian Churches aren’t much help with death. They always properly proclaim “eternal life” in Christ, its wonders and glories that await us. But few emphasize that to get there we first have to die; come to an earthly end; cease, desist and stop breathing and living. We must first become no one but a waning memory before we can enter into life anew and again be someone. We concentrate on the destination, but we do little to get us ready for the journey.
But as Archie Bunker once so wisely observed, “Everybody has to die sometime, that’s life!!” And so it is, Arch; death is universal, inevitable, and approaching. Everyone reading this now has less time to live than when they began. Like ole Arch opined: “nobody’s got out of here alive yet.” Even the author of life, Jesus, had to first die to this world to be resurrected into His world. So what’s a fella to do?
Last Wednesday evening at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, the Rector, Fr. Laird MacGregor, sponsored a program titled “The End Times: Dying and Death and How to Prepare.” Fr. Laird opened the discussion with the admonition from our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer calling the faithful to properly and openly prepare for their own death; to make appropriate arrangements for the dispersal of their goods, and to provide for their living family. I’m afraid few knew that it was in the Prayer Book, and fewer had read it.
To augment that injunction, Fr. Laird had a fine local lawyer who dramatically and dynamically explained the legal ramifications of a person’s death. There are many!! He shared a personal experience of his ministry with a dying cousin, who was most probably kept breathing long after he should have been released from life, and whose wishes, though written, could not be located. The family had great difficulty finding and fulfilling the dying man’s death directions, even to the point of allowing him to die. After several very stressful days, the documents were located. Of course with proper preparation, death could have come sooner with less suffering, and the family could have done what was asked of them with total peace of mind.
Page 2 of 3 - As our lawyer teacher emphasized “get your stuff together … and keep it where it can be found.” The “stuff” referred to is a “Durable Power of Attorney” that designates an appropriate person to make living and dying decisions for us if and when we no longer can. Another item of “stuff” is a current and specific “Living Will.” This disposition of possessions needs to be shared while the testator can openly specify to whom and to where any post-death property is to be given. Such advance preparation can spare a family much additional grief following a loved one’s death. Such documentation can be kept in a variety of places, but those closest to the person should have them readily available when needed. This too takes proper preparation, openness, and honesty. We all received samples of the necessary papers, along with earnest encouragement that they be used. I think our attorney friend got everyone’s attention.
The evening closed with a very poignant and loving exposition by the parish organist who so often is called upon to help plan funerals for a family in deep grief, with no idea what the deceased would wish. She provided us with a simple form that could be completed and returned to the church, listing and itemizing the type of service desired, favorite Scripture readings, hymns, and prayers. The completion of this document would again spare those left behind the agony of making important final decisions in ignorance. I believe all present will soon bring those complete forms to St. Anne’s.
Obviously, this was a powerful evening program. Fr. Laird, St. Anne’s, and the good presenters provided all in attendance invaluable information and encouragement. It is because of the benefit we received that I wanted to report our experience and strongly encourage other clergy and Churches to offer such guidance and support for their congregations. We all need to “get our stuff together” for the good of all who survive us. Even as we plan to celebrate the great “victory over death” won that first Easter Day, death remains a journey no one can take for us. We must do our own dying. We must go through it to reach our ultimate destination.
Lent is a perfect time for such reflection and planning. Lent is a time to prepare. I’m reading a book titled “Good to go!” It is a guide to prepare for the end of life. It is a good read; sometimes light hearted and whimsical, but always dealing seriously with the truth. One of the stories is of the arrogant attorney who glibly said “I know everyone has to die someday, but surely there’ll be an exception in my case.” No!! No exceptions! No exercise plan, no special diet, no lotions, potions, creams or salves will keep death from taking us. Let’s deal with it, prepare for it and plan how best to journey through it.
Page 3 of 3 - Let’s do that for those whom we love so much. Now is the time my friends to get “good to go.”
Fr. Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest, living in McPherson.