Dealing with Death

Death is all around us.  We can’t seem to escape its presence and it won’t go away.  We can wish it did not exist, but we cannot disbelieve it out of existence.  One of the first bits of news that I read this morning, had to do with the horrible crash of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501.  “‘Bodies and Debris’ found in AirAsia search,” the headline said.  The pictures of family members weeping in the pain and anguish caused by this sudden loss of their loved ones are quite heart-wrenching.  AP_airasia_plane_relatives_jef_141229_16x9_992

I also read, a blog post by a woman who is dying of cancer.  Her name is Kara Tippetts, you may have heard of her already.  I have read one or two other posts by her before – quite challenging.  The first time I heard of her was when she wrote a letter to another lady who was also dying of cancer by the name of Brittany Maynard.  Brittany had decided to take her life using medical pills given to her by her doctor(s) in Portland, Oregon.  In the letter, which was entitled, Why We Don’t Have to Be So Afraid of Dying& Suffering That We Choose Suicide, Kara was pleading with Brittany not to do that.  Many others wrote to Brittany but their messages fell on deaf ears.  Brittany went ahead and took her own life on November 1, 2014.  She effectively committed suicide in an attempt to run away from the pain of dying.  

As a Christian, I would not want to take my own life under any circumstances.  First, because my life is not my own.  It’s God’s!  I belong to Him first because He is my Creator.  Second, because He is my Redeemer.  He has bought me back to Himself through His Son’s death who shed His blood for me.  So, I am doubly owned.  I have no rights of my own.  Any rights I have, are mine because God has given them to me.  But, I can understand why Brittany did what she did as repulsive as it might be to us.  Any of us, left to ourselves, we would probably (actually, most certainly), do the same thing.

Dying is not fun. Now, I am not saying that from experience (obviously).  But I have read and heard stories of people facing death, describe the pain of dying.  For many of them, it’s not so much that they are afraid of death itself.  Rather, it is the process of dying that many if not most of them dread.  The physical pain involved; the emotional pain involved when they think of their loved ones whom they should soon leave behind; the unending list of adjustments that they (and others – family members, caregivers, etc) have to make as death looms larger and larger in their lives.  All these things do bring a lot of pain which is hard to cope with apart from knowing Jesus Christ and having Him as your Good Shepherd walking with you “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).  Having the confidence that God has committed His two faithful body guards, “goodness and mercy,” to pursue and protect you in this life and then usher you into God’s own Presence at death, makes all the difference.  The pain of dying still remains.  But it is bearable for those who are in Christ.  It’s only for a moment – and in those painful, dying moments, He whispers hope to His own.

That’s what the story of Kara Tippetts seems to say to me.  When I read what she has been able to share.  The pain is there – but so is the Hope.  Her hope is in Jesus Christ.  This is part of what she wrote on the blog that I read this morning:

I just realized I will likely never again drive. It’s this weird event that marks the fading of a life, and I have no feeling other than wonder over the fact that it’s over. That chapter. All the driving my body can no longer do will now be captured by my community, my loves, my people. And there will be other strengths that will languish, and my people will press into love and provide us the needed strength and support to manage that new edge. 

I listened to my husband make the impossible phone call this morning. He called hospice. He told him that his young wife was dying, but they already knew. My kind-faced oncologist had called and told them. They were gentle and gave us a time they would be here to meet with us. The call you never expect when you are still getting your footing on living and loving and confidence in faith and who you are. But our hands have been pulled wide of our story, and peace enters. Jason walks into the room and said- I did one thing I needed to today. Needed to but never wanted to- he called Hospice because I am dying. 

So, there it is. My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus- and He will provide it. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love will cover us all. And it will carry us- carry us in ways we cannot comprehend. It will be a new living and trusting for many in my community. Loving with a great big open hand to my story being the good story- even when it feels so broken. 

Will you trust Jesus with us? Love us today by imagining how you can press deeper into love in the place you live. Give away what was never yours to keep. 

A few years ago, here in Vancouver, there was another lady who was also dying of cancer.  I never met her and I don’t quite recall how I heard about her.  But not long before her death, she gave quite an inspiring, heartfelt talk to a group of women at an event where she was able to share her hope in the midst of her battle with terminal cancer.  I watched the video recording of this event and listened to Rachel talk of her faith.  I was riveted and five years later, I still remember her remarkable story of faith, hope and love in Christ Jesus.  You can watch it here.  The description to the video reads:

After four and a half years of vigilantly fighting breast cancer, the 37 year old wife and mother of two was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  But for Rachel the essence of life is found in her relationship with God through Jesus.  And that’s why Rachel is convinced that death is not dying.  On March 4, 2009, what started out as a small talk to a women’s group at her church grew into an event attended by 600 women from around Vancouver, giving Rachel an opportunity to share about her hope in the midst of terminal cancer.  Rachel’s honest and thought-provoking talk touched women of all ages and left a hunger for discovering more about Rachel’s journey and the faith that has deeply affected her life. 

There is a website that was set up to tell Rachel’s story.  While she was still living, Rachel posted some letters on the website as she was able to write them.  One of the first ones, is entitled, “Dying is hard.”  She opens that letter with these words:

Dying is hard.  I’m not sure what I thought it would be like but I think I hoped it would be easier than this. But, admittedly, I’m not that tough.  First of all, I’ve never done it before and there’s no one around who’s done it before to ask how to do it well. You have to prioritize and plan your days, weeks, months, without knowing how much time you actually have. You have to find the balance between complaining so that you can get relief and not complaining so that you don’t annoy all the nice people who are trying to help you. All this, I am learning, I am not that good at. 

Then she goes on to describe some of her struggles but she concludes by saying:

So all that to say, I’m not very good at this. I am trying though. And when I think of the end, of how hard dying already is, and of how hard it will be for those I love when I’m gone, these are the verses that come to mind: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Isaiah 43:1-2. Dying is hard. But not as hard as it could be. with love, rb 

I would encourage you to take some time and go through her website which is still up five years after Rachel’s death.  You will be inspired.

Why All This?

Well, there is really one thing that inspires me to think much about death and to talk about it as often as I do.  It is simply this:  I know that one day, I will have to face death.  Or even better, death will have to face me in Christ.  I need to prepare myself to die.  I need to prepare myself to die well – in Christ.  And that preparation is something I have to do day by day, moment by moment.  It’s not something I can put off till the very bitter end of my life.  I don’t have that luxury because I don’t know when I am going to die.  I must always be ready.

There are a couple of verses that come to my mind every time I think of death.  One is Psalm 39:4 which says, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” and the other is Psalm 90:12 which says something similar, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” I pray these verses for myself on a regular basis because I need to be reminded that I will die one day and I need to be getting ready for that day before it comes.  What about you?  I pray that you will think much about death, talk about it with your family, friends, church members – and pray that when death comes, you will be ready to meet Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Before I close, let me just ask you to please remember to pray for the families of those who have lost their loved ones in the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 accident.  Also, please pray for Kara Tippetts as she is facing death and her family as they care for her and spent these days with her.  And finally, please pray for the family that Rachel left behind, her husband and their two children (and all those who were close to her personally) that they may be strengthened and sustained by God’s grace even as they prepare for their own death sooner or later.

May God help us all to number our days that we may present before Him hearts of wisdom through Jesus Christ!  Amen!