“From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from
violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and
unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.” — The Great Litany
Continuing the theme from last week’s final post, I want to talk about death again. Not as the great and existential horror that looms at the end of the line for all of us, but as the friend that greets us and leads us into the unknown, into rest, and into the undiscovered country. Today, I want to talk about dying prepared, dying well, dying full of days and in community.
Marlow was wrong (“… No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone….”). We may dream alone, in our sleep, but we do not live alone, nor do we have to die alone. Yes, we each face our own deaths, but that does not exclude our death from being a communal thing, and if you have had someone close to you die, you know that it is. Death can happen in community, with your loved ones gathered around you, with goodbyes being said, and with relationships ending well.
Not that the relationships end, necessarily. But there is absence. In that absence, a community can continue, a community with the dead, who speak to us in their silence and absence, in their examples and their stories left behind to us. The absence that we face in relating to the dead is unlike other absences, since it excludes a hither-side of reunion in eternity. All living absences could theoretically be ended in presence, but to be present with the dead, one must die or be caught up in the same eternal movement with them (more on this next post).
There is more than one way to die. When life is cut short, when projects and cares and concerns and relationships suddenly, abruptly end, we experience more fully the tear in the fabric of life that death brings. This is dying unprepared, when there is no opportunity to close down projects, bring relationships to a sweeter end — healing and restoring where that is needed. Nor is there time and ability to say goodbye in an unprepared death, to ready oneself to face the next phase of existence. And then, there is dying when one is prepared to die. In this, we face death, not as an enemy but an old friend. We have brought the projects and concerns of life to as much of a close as we can. We have said our goodbyes. The pain, and the tear in life remains, but the healing has already begun.
But because we are not in control of our lives, and we are especially not in control of our deaths, we must pray to be delivered safely to a death that is prepared, welcomed, with a life that is celebrated before it. What we can control is our response to death and our side of the relationships in life. As we live, may we strive to connect with others, to be known by others, and to love others. May we so live and so live that in the hour of our deaths, we may be gathered by our community, our loved ones, and our friends. May we not live alone, and so may we not die alone. May the Lord deliver us from dying suddenly and from living without love.