Death. What a small yet ominous word. I remember being so afraid of death as a child that I put off reading “Superfudge” for a whole year. Of course, once I actually read the book I loved it. In fact, Judy Blume was my first favorite author. Why did I procrastinate? You see the first word in “Superfudge” is “life.” I was so afraid of death, that its antonym gave me pause. Technically birth is death’s opposite, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Death made me think about the afterlife, and as a Christian, I believed in a forever afterlife. So death made me think about forever, and sometimes, late at night, trying to grasp eternity would make my stomach fall out from under me. So, as a child, I avoided anything that might make me think about death with great vigilance.
Then my mother died. All of a sudden I was acutely aware of death. I wanted to understand everything about it. Up until then death hadn’t really hit home. Until then I’d only buried a pet. He was a much-loved pet (Timothy—the greatest dog in the world), but his death wasn’t enough to propel me into an existential thought tangent.
Once I had to bury someone who had framed my whole existence with her own, my questions about life and death changed drastically and became urgent. And unfortunately, my mother was the person I used to take such questions to. Who was I without her? Who and what was she now? What did I believe? Suddenly “You live, you die, you go to Heaven (if you’ve lived your life for Christ),” wasn’t enough for me. I wanted all the spaces filled. I wanted a more detailed itinerary. What happens in between? What was the route from point A to point B? Where was my mother now…where was she? Was she in heaven or did that come later? I knew where her body was buried, but where was her spirit, her consciousness, her love? And if I told God I loved and missed her, would He pass along the message? Could He? Couldn’t He do anything? My faith was at its thinnest then.
Death. It is no respecter of persons, and it is diligent. It is at once simple and inscrutable. It takes us out of birth order—parents burying children, some never being born, others born but never given time to mature. The dying bury the living and then live on. When my grandfather got sick, we all travelled to see him one more time. He was on his deathbed, but he lived to see my mother die. Death caught us all looking in the wrong direction for its arrival. And after we’d turned to look the other way, my grandfather died.
So why am I thinking about death today? Yesterday in the midst of all those that chose to get married and those that happened to be born or have birthdays on a numerically interesting date, my uncle died.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-40