Dying Well, Part 2

Dying Well, Part 2

What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in,
Why it’s almost like being in love…[1]

-From the Brigadoon soundtrack

My first heartbreak came in junior high school when my first girlfriend broke up with me. She was a cheerleader and one of the “popular” people at school, so being her boyfriend was a significant ego boost for me. After feeling terminally ordinary for most of my life to that point, I finally felt like somebody because someone who was considered somebody singled me out as a worthwhile person to be with. When she told me she did not want to be my girlfriend anymore I was devastated. It felt like I had died, and indeed, a part of me had died. In hindsight I know the part of me that died was an illusion. It was an illusion because it only existed in the context of how I thought others thought of me. Our value as children of God cannot be discerned using such low standards.

When my wife and I began dating, time stood still. We were so enamored with each other that everything else in our lives faded into the background. We lost ourselves in the moment and the hours passing by on the clock faded to irrelevance. We would talk until late into the night, oblivious to the fact that our alarm clocks would yank us back into time-and-space reality for work the next day. We had no idea what the future held and, at the time, it did not matter. The present moment was enough and our past did not encumber it. Of course, long before we reached our current 30+ years of married life, our lives together became more firmly grounded in our time-and-space reality and the late-night, starry-eyed conversations ceased. Getting to bed on time so we could face the next day ready and rested took precedent. The expression of our love for each other shifted, although it also attained new dimensions.

The me and her that were so obliviously in love gave way to the married couple that took on obligations beyond just being together. As in my junior high heartbreak, there was a death involved there, too – the death of two people who exclusively narrowed their focus onto one another. One can argue, correctly I think, that that sort of love experience is not sustainable for very long. The reason it is not sustainable is because of the many other forces pulling at us in our earthly lives — children, jobs, homes, cooking, paying bills, and spending time with family and friends. When we fall deeply in love it is easy to ignore the call of other parts of our lives, at least for a time, as we narrow our experience onto this one person as much as is humanly possible. That narrow focus, however, makes everything else vying for our attention scream all the more loudly. It is not a matter of loving less but of accommodating a broader and more inclusive, if less intense experience of love and life.

I share these experiences because I believe there are lessons from loving well that can be instructive for dying well. Certainly we are going to face a big death – the end of our earthly life as we know it. We will leave everything and everyone we have grown attached to and move on to points unknown. While there is heartbreak in losing anything important to us, just like my adolescent experience, what we think we are so afraid of losing is mostly illusory. The love we so wish to hold onto and that undergirds everything important to us will not be lost in spite of the physical separation from those we love. This is because the love we cherish exists in a context greater than our day-to-day experience on earth. When one we love goes away on a journey, we do not love them less for their absence. The old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is applicable here.

Preparing to die well has many of the markings of falling in love. Just as our previous self must die in order to enter a new expression of love, so our earthly life must die to allow us entry into the next phase of life. When our preparations for death have included the seeking and offering of forgiveness, along with generous expressions of love and appreciation, we are free to enter the next stage of our life adventure unencumbered. And once again we fall into the all-consuming, timeless dance with the Beloved, knowing we are loved and cherished for who we are, as we are.

This is the 58th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or 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.

[1] Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, “Almost Like Being in Love,” Brigadoon Soundtrack, 1947

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