Conversations on Death

This morning I attended a bioethics lecture where representatives from Carle Hospital, Urbana Theological Seminary and guest lecturer of moral philosophy from Union University addressed some of the questions facing our society today regarding aging and end-of-life care for medical and religious professionals as well as a more potent perspective for us each as humans who will face our own and family member's deaths. 

In the midst of the research, surveys, data and trends discussed, a common thread stood out like a scarlet strand amid a complex tapestry of medical, economic, social, spiritual and familial concerns: a growing expression of desire to provide & receive care in a manner which is more compassionate and humanizing and attends to the spiritual, relational and emotional needs of those who are facing death. 

Dr. Cranston, a neurologist, shared that elimination of pain is actually not at the top of the list of why patients seek assisted-suicide: it's because they are lonely, abandoned, depressed, hopeless, conflicted and don't want to be a burden on others. The panel spoke of the curious trend in which sons and daughters want medical professionals to "do everything" to save their parents from pain and death. What is "everything" possible? Do we really want that? Rather, would we do well to give attention to how to die well. 

Dr. Mitchells shared the ancient Latin prayer, "From sudden and unprovided death deliver us, Lord" which stands as a bullwark against the cultural tide - both within the church and without - where the conversation of death and preparing for its arrival has become concealed amid other more seemingly pressing concerns. All three representatives let their sleeves down in the Q&A and spoke frankly about the pressing need for us to break the cycle of silence regarding illness and death in our communities. Medical professionals can only go so far in the process of care. Remember the early church who was known for putting her own life at risk in order to remain behind in plague-ravaged cities. The ministry of simply being with people as they near the end of this physical life seems to be forgotten. Perhaps my generation needs to remember that our faith - one firmly planted in the death and resurrection of our Lord - is a faith which is not shy about death. We can speak boldly of our hope and do not need to be afraid of death, nor of sitting closely and compassionately with those who nearing the end of this earthly sojourn.

As one who lives and works among many who are young and vibrant - "far" from death it is believed - this conversation on death could seem marginal, but I am reminded of the faith of Christ-followers who have been martyred. It was not at the point of martyrdom that they prepared to die, for they had prepared much earlier. For when Christ calls a man to come and follow him, He calls him to come and die. The tragedy for our generation, for our society, would be to pretend that death is not coming for those around us and that it is not coming for us. Our earthly life is vaporous. In Christ alone, we have a victorious hope in the face of earthly death and we are called to come along side our neighbors, our families, our communities, and show them the compassion we received while we were still dead in our sins, as well as share the good news of hope which is theirs in Christ alone.

Teach us to number our days, O LORD, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.