Facing and Accepting Death

Death is not only an external psychological phenomenon to human beings, but also it is ontologically immanent.  We must accept that death is something that will come to all of us.  When we are born, we start to die, but we take long time to realize that.  Acceptance of this is different between people having faith and those not having faith.  It can be said that those who believe face death with hope, but those who do not believe fear walking into the dark valley.  Death causes the decomposition between our soul and our body, but because of the promise of our Lord, we are going to rise again.  In this paper, I will share some of my own reflections about facing and accepting death.

In my culture, the idea of death is not contemplated as a possibility.  People do not like to talk about death.  Doctors never tell patient if he or she is facing death; they will only say that to the patient’s family.  My father, who started a movement called Servicio Sacerdotal de Urgencia[1]in my diocese in Argentina, told me that relatives often do not want to call a priest because they do not want to scare the person who is dying. Sometimes they call too late and when the priest finally arrives, the patient happily receives him as she or he worried that the family would not call because of their own fears.

Many years ago, I saw a play called Love’s Letter Written in Blue Paper in which a dying atheist lives with his believer wife.  Every day he receives a letter written by his wife and in each letter, she writes how she loves him and reminisces about the most important events in their life together, but she never comments on her letters and just goes about doing her daily routine.  He is completely astonished with his wife’s behavior and tells one of his friends about her strange conduct.  Meanwhile, he continues to receive one letter every day.  At the end, when he is about to die and all the anguish and fear comes out, she comforts him with this argument: “Have you lied to yourself, even once?”  He responds that he has not, so then his wife says: “I know that you do not believe that there is another life, but because I have never lied to you and because you believe in me, I tell you that there is another life, and that we will be there together”.  He then passes away in peace.

Five years ago, when my mother passed away, I had to return to the hospital early the next morning to identify her body because of legal requirements.  While I was driving, I prayed for the intercession of Santa Teresita de Lisieux:  “Santa Teresita, I have never prayed for your intercession before today.  I am now doing so because I want to know if my mother is with God”.  Later, when we were ready to start the mass for my mother, relatives who could not come had sent roses.  One common belief is that when you ask for something through Santa Teresita, you are going to see roses.  For me, that was the sign that God sent to comfort me and to give me the peace that I needed at that crucial time.

When facing death, it is faith which comforts us, gives us strength and prepares us.  Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui.  Faith is the state in which, despite going into the unknown, we have certainty:  The state of being definite or of not having any doubts at all about something.  In this paper, I presented three situations in which people have to face and accept death.  In the first, the person who is dying is not afraid of the unknown, but rather is desperately waiting in his or her last moments for the priest who will give the final sacraments for consolation and the strength to walk through the dark valley.  The dying person can accept death.  It is those who will remain who can not.  In the second, the dying husband receives faith from his wife, so that he can walk through the dark valley.  Finally, even though I am Christian, I still needed a sign to strengthen my faith.  The lesson here to be learned is that a pastoral care minister must empathize not only with the person who is dying but also with those who will be left behind, and must be prepared to comfort and strengthen, taking into account the special needs of each situation.

Bibliography

Roche, James W. Facing Death: Discovering Life. CHAC: Ottawa, 2000, 64-73.

Cassidy, Sheila. Light From The Dark Valley. London, England: Darton, Logman & Todd, Inc., 1994, 84-131.


[1] It is a service which runs from10 pm to 6 am every day for people who are looking for a priest to receive final sacraments, and lay people accompanied the priest.


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