Preparing for the reality of death

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

November is the month of All Souls and, as the last days of the liturgical year approach, the Scripture readings will soon be reminding us once again of the “last things” — that is to say, death, judgment, heaven, hell and the second coming of the Lord.

Pondering such realities relates to an area of theology, called “eschatology.” It is a field of study that could be characterized by gloom and doom, but should more favorably be associated with the hopeful proclamation of Jesus Christ that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

A state of tension

In fact, we live in a state of spiritual tension between the present and the future, the “already” presence of Christ which we experience in Word, sacrament and community and the “not yet” presence of seeing him face to face in the kingdom to come.

This tension ought to provide the motivation we need to “die to self” in order “to live for Christ” in lives of heroic virtue. Thus, we need not view death as a hostile ending to physical life but rather as a welcomed event whose passage leads to eternal life with God.

Preparing for death spiritually is, therefore, of paramount importance.  But preparing for death psychologically and emotionally is also essential.

Some years ago, I was at my parents’ home for Sunday dinner.  It was just the three of us, and so I took the occasion over dessert to ask them what their desires would be in the event that they were to suffer a stroke or heart attack, rendering them unconscious. My father, always the funny man, looked at me with a dead-pan face and replied, “Was there something wrong with your dinner?  Did something you ate disagree with you?”

I replied in the negative, but added,“Come on now, Dad, we’ve got to talk about this. None of us knows what you want us to do.”

Well, remarkably that broke the ice and they both were forthcoming as to what they wanted: my mother saying we should do everything possible to allow her time to say goodbye to us children; my father stating that if he begins to go, let him go — no extraordinary means should be applied. (Quite a dichotomy for two people who shared one life for 65 years!)

Having an advocate

Now, such knowledge is not as good as a living will, but it did provide us with guidance when it was needed. Even with a living will, not every circumstance can be foreseen and thus the importance of having an advocate who can help in making critical decisions.

While ordinary means should be taken to support life, extraordinary means may not and, at times, should not be used. But again, circumstances can blur the distinction between the two and, hence, the need to have someone present who knows the mind of the patient.

I encourage families to talk about the reality of death, and this month provides an excellent opportunity.  Being prepared spiritually, psychologically and emotionally is not only recommended, it will, in the end, prove a blessing.

God bless you!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Only Jesus