If I Should Die Before I Wake
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
–Bedtime prayer for children
This week I begin a new series of Life Notes titled If I Should Die Before I Wake. In the coming months I will reflect upon topics related to death and dying. I intend to explore the various types of deaths we go through and witness during our lives on earth, as well as delving into speculations about heaven and hell, resurrection, an afterlife, and other related topics. I enter this discussion not as an expert, but as one intimately impacted by these issues and curious enough to explore them in some detail. As always, I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback. You can communicate with me directly via email at email@example.com, or you can comment through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
The thought of death makes most of us squirm. We sometimes fear if we talk too much about it, we may invite it to come closer. We know that everyone and everything dies, and in many ways we have been in a process of dying since taking our first breath on earth. We joke that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. One of my mentors, Jim Finley, likes to say that our death is “in the mail,” meaning it is on its way. Even when death is likely decades away, each passing day draws it closer. Death is frightening because of its uncertainty and unknowability. We do not know when it will arrive, in what manner, under what circumstances, or what lies beyond. It hangs like a dismal shroud over everything good, beautiful, and joyful in our lives.
Spiritual teacher Robert Brumet posted a blog in May 2019 titled, Using Death as Your Advisor. He quotes the Yaqui Indian sorcerer, Don Juan, in saying, “Death is our eternal companion. It is always at our left at arm’s length. It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you.” Brumet advises, “The thing to do when you are impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if you catch a glimpse of it.” He encourages us to assess our priorities in view of our impending demise. If this were my last week on earth, which of my typical worries and stressors would still matter? What activities are worthy of trading for any of my precious moments? It is in this spirit of using our death as an advisor for living that I hope this series of reflections will remain true. I do not wish to be morbid or fatalistic, but I do believe there is much to be learned from the discussion.
I have witnessed physical death in a close and personal way three time in my life, thus far. I was at my father’s side for his sudden death, and I was able to spend extended time with my mother and grandmother as they went through a slower dying process. I am forever grateful for the few hours spent with my dad the night before he died. Neither of us knew, at least not consciously, how life was about to change. I am equally grateful for the days and weeks spent with my mother and grandmother during their gradual transition toward whatever comes next. My grandmother shared a number of experiences she was having of the next world whenever she drifted back to conscious presence with me. Truly, time spent with the dying is a blessed gift when we are present enough to receive it. We must, however, go deeper into the experience than our sadness at losing physical contact with one we love typically allows. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Brumet offers sage advice about death and dying: “Remembering that the span of my life is limited makes my remaining days all the more precious.” My hope is that these reflections will encourage us to reorder our priorities for our remaining days, treating each as a priceless gift. If that occurs, these reflections will be less about death and more about living life to its fullest. May it be so.
This is the 1st in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake.
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