January 10, 2013

Preparing for death.

It’s a fact of life: we’re going to die. God willing, we will be granted many long and happy years, and meet our end peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, ready to enter the presence of our Lord.

Arwen, grieving Aragorn
We are reminded far too often that death isn’t that cooperative. It can be sneaky and unkind. It is also indiscriminate, visiting the unprepared and the knowing in equal measure. It leaves grief, anger, confusion, and division in its wake, but that doesn’t stop it from ravaging families or entire communities.

Death makes us uncomfortable. We try to escape its inevitability through denial or vitamins. We believe we can transcend fate, as written in some of our great poetry “Though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion” ~ Dylan Thomas.

Thomas was absolutely right – love ultimately conquers all, and our physical, earthly death is a new birth into eternal life. And yet, death is an unavoidable reality we have to face. This isn’t a topic I was excited to write about. We’ve just concluded our Christmas feasting; we’ve entered a new year of hope and promise, a Year of Faith. And yet, I feel very strongly the need to encourage you to prepare yourselves well for death.

Do all you can now in order to have a holy death. Pray, receive the sacraments, make your peace each day with God, beg the intercession of St. Joseph asking him to be with you in your moment of dying.

Do all you can now in order to have a peaceful death, whether you expect it or not.  Don’t leave forgiveness and reconciliation for tomorrow. Don’t leave the important things unsaid.

Do all you can now in order to have a quiet death. Don’t leave chaos and confusion behind you. Set your affairs in order now. Make provision for your children, settle your property, clean house. Make sure the pertinent people know where the paperwork is. Make your wishes known if you have strong feelings about your funeral and burial. If possible, make arrangements now for a burial plot. Ensure your finances are sorted in such a way that there will be no undue hardship for those who may need access to accounts, passwords, contracts.

This isn’t a morbid insistence we all live in fear of an imminent death. A week before Christmas, the daughter of a friend died from cancer more quickly than anyone thought. Her husband and two young children had to make difficult decisions in the midst of their shock and grief. Not long ago, my friend’s mom died, again, unexpectedly. It’s taken my friend two years to sort through everything her mother left behind, all the collections, papers, files, all the “just in case” stuff her mom couldn’t bring herself to get rid of. Instead, my friend had two years of physical labour and emotional turmoil, the constant decisions about whether to keep or where to dispose of the things that were inextricably linked to her mother’s memory.

This is not about guilt trips. I want to share my own experience. My dad died four years ago, on December 28. Two years prior to that, we discovered he had a condition that would ultimately end his life. It wasn’t until that September that we were told point-blank the bald fact: he was going to die, and fairly soon.  At the time, it was the cruelest news anyone could have given us. It turns out to have been the greatest blessing because we were able to do all those things I encouraged you to do above.

Detail from the Pieta
My dad was ready spiritually. He was completely at peace and was able to put himself with utter trust into the hands of Our Lady, and had no hesitation about where he was at with God. He was able to write notes for my mom about things he wanted her to know – even how to use her mirrors when navigating the car. Never a terribly demonstrative or communicative man, he left me in no doubt as to his love for me, and I am so very, very grateful I was able to do the same for him. I didn’t want to let him go, but I could do so without regrets. He and mom bought their burial plots, selected his casket. He had his estate in order and talked it through with his executor – and still the endless forms and phone calls and notifications after his death were difficult and seemingly endless. I can’t imagine having to do any of that while we were reeling with grief.

There is no need to be afraid of dying. We know our God is a loving, merciful Father. He has provisioned us with all we need to avail ourselves of His mercy, His grace. He has also blessed us with practicality and wisdom. Let’s make use of all His gifts to make sure that we and those we love, are prepared for a holy death.

Have mercy on me, O God.


  1. Such a sobering reminder that this is our fate, every one of us, and perfect timing as we begin the new year. I heard a protestant pastor talk about death once and he said we, as humans, have to 'kiss death on the mouth'...meaning, we must make our peace with it or else we live our lives in fear.

    Beautiful story of your dad's last days. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. That's so true - we have to make our peace with death. There is no freedom whatsoever in fear. Freedom comes through acceptance. I am mortal. I am meant for something else. This life is a gift, but it is not permanent. Death does not end 'me', but still I cann not escape it.

    I suppose when there is no faith, when there is no knowledge of God, death is a frightening thing.

    Thank you, Sarah



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