When we think about death, as rare as we usually do, I think about the varieties of ways in which I myself will die. The majority of people may think of dying only when in the moment of dying or when we know someone who is possibly dying. Even as rare as we think about dying, we never consider the impact it will have on others and the type of legacy we wish others to think about us after we are gone.
I am sure that the majority of us will agree, that we wish for it to never happen, and when it does happen, we desire to die quickly. No matter how we view death, it a natural occurrence in our lives just as a new born is coming into this world is to us. We usually never get a chance to confront death, just as a victim confronts its offender in a court of law to give the victim impact that it has on us. As abnormal and as morbid as we view death, “most of us will suffer and cope with the deaths of relatives and friends” .
When death occurs, and yes it is eminent, our reactions to death may depend upon your religious and or cultural beliefs. As a clergyman, I often remind individuals of how death is a part of being human. The King James Version of the Bible states, “And it is appointed unto men once to die…” (Hebrew 9:27). But no matter what we tell people, it is extremely difficult to explain why
death occurs, especially when it is sudden or when it involves those that we really love and cherish. I remember in one of my religious classes of study a couple of years ago, and one of the students asked the teacher to explain why did the young baby, Christina Green, had to be taken at such a young age and to die such a tragic death, and why God allowed this to happen.
The teacher struggled with giving a sound, reasonable answer, and this student began crying very hard while thinking of this tragedy. The compassionate part of me felt so bad for this young lady, and I got up to console her and privately began to help explain the events that took place. Truth is, explaining these types of events to someone without a spiritual understanding will never truly understand what we may say to them.
My own understanding of my spiritual beliefs helped her to get past the moment, but not away from the tragedy. In this young lady’s case, there may never be the right words to say, but allowing her to express her anger and resentment to life was more comfort to her than anything I could say. I learned from this young lady that there may never always be the right words to say to some people, but just showing compassion and letting them express themselves gives them more peace than I could.
Society often will have us to believe that there is a scripted, right way for an individual to react to the loss of a loved one. Myers explain that “for most people, bereavement therapy and self- help groups do little to enhance the healing power of time and supportive friends”. Now I am no licensed psychologist on the subject, but I do believe, contrary to the experts, that bereavement therapy does help. Maybe it is the religious connection that is added to these types of therapies that do help.
I remember the hospice doctor that came to speak to our class, and he was firmly connected to his belief that dying is a spiritual experience. To my belief, knowing how to connect the spiritual aspect of dying to the experience of dying and grief go hand in hand, even when others may not have the same believe as you do. The usual strategy of most religions is to place a so called code on everything, including grief.
The attempt to qualify grief and loss as line item on a McDonald’s menu is just plain out of touch. There are times it seems like religion has its own constitution on grief. We must take a different approach to understanding death and grief.
While speaking on the spiritual connection to dying, I believe that death should be allowed to be as natural as possible. There was a situation when I was called to the hospital to pray for my brother-in-law who was near death. When I arrived to the intensive care unit, his wife and my wife and his children were standing around in tears while holding his hand.
However, the scene bothered with greatly. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a human on a respirator. The look of a machine sustaining life on a human being just rattled me. I had all the look of an unnatural way to live. The look of his chest, moving up and down while this machine was pumping life into his body just gave me the absolute chills.
Even today, when someone asks me to go visit someone in a hospital, the first thing I always ask, is the patient on life support. It is by far a very difficult challenge for me personally. It bothered me so much, that I desire that no special effort be made to keep me alive if it ever happened to me.
It has always been the lack of understanding about death, sickness, and grief that was the spring board for me to become a clergyman. I have never been afraid of trying anything, so walking into a situation where someone is dying or sick has never been a weakness for me. I look at them as opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life or situation that can bring hope or bring relief to the moment.
Caring for others and having compassion for other has always been a trade mark of my personality. It was when this trademark was combined with spirituality that it began to help me to understand my purpose in this life. Expressing one’s humanity in any situation is so important in life. Just as important it is for the sick or grieving, it is equally important for the living and dying.
While reading author Greg Yoder’s Companioning the Dying, he made a connection of the spirit and companioning. Dying teaches us about feelings and passion. “Companions might recognize evidence of spirit in the form of passion for any aspect of life” (Yoder p. 31). Spirituality includes grace as an expression of love, intellectual understanding, and curiosity. It is something that no book could ever teach a person who desires to engage in spirituality and life. It is a special calling to do so. It is as almost to say, God made me this way!
My own personal saying about life is this: humanity is frail, inconsistent, full of lust, comes with defects, has many faults, full of vanity, unpredictable, and contains a variety of emotions, but combined with spirituality, makes all of them worth it to understand life. It is truly living, and the experiences we learn from them all is the reason why we are who we are.
One of my other greatest challenges is to experience grief through the eyes of children. Most of my life I have always had to minister to adults. In most cases, when losing a spouse or a parent, the children may become the entire focus of the family remnant. It is difficult to determine how much the children understand loss and grief. In class we talked about the things to say to children when loss and grief occurs. I learned that being direct and truthful can be the best way to share the experience with children.
I have learned that death and loss and grief are experiences, and not just some hearsay that we are not familiar with. It is real and a real experience. So it is the sharing of that experience even with the children that we must take special care to address. Though children may not grieve as an adult, they too must be allowed to share their grieving experience in the best possible way the can without us leading them to the experience.
“Generally speaking, bereaved children experience grief reactions similar to those experienced by adults. However, children differ from adults in cognitive abilities, need for identification figures, and dependence on adults for support” (DeSpelder, L. Strickland, A. p. 387). Sometimes by focusing on the adults in the home to share their experience with them, this can trickle down to the way the children are experiencing the loss.
No matter whether we lose a loved one as an adult or as a child, what bothers me more than anything is how unprepared we are when it happens. I am not speaking in terms of being emotionally and mentally prepared. I am speaking on the grounds of being financial responsible. I have been to many burials and funeral rituals, and it seems just about every one of them involves not having the finances to bury their loved. Western cultures vary in the way we chose to perform burial services.
Some burial services are inexpensive. But some, especially in the religious field, have a very elaborate burial service. The most recent of burial service I attended was that of my brother-in-law back in Indiana. Knowing that funeral costs can range up into the thousands of dollars, many are not prepared for the cost of burying someone. It’s very disheartening when the family is left behind with the struggles of providing financing to bury a relative.
There have been many occasions when I had to sign documents committing myself to pay for the funeral costs just to have a decent service. Most funeral homes give you so many days to have the financing to allow for the burial and generally many people cannot afford it.
Even after stripping some costs from burial services down to the bare minimum, it is still a financial burden to those left behind. Having a life insurance policy can help defray the costs. It’s as simple as that. Having that financial security helps dealing with the loss of a loved one, though it can never replace them. Many families have fallen out of relationships with one another just because of this issue. My advice to everyone is to get life insurance, and get it early while you are young.
When counseling individuals who get their first job, the first advice I give is to get some life insurance first. Not only is there not enough financing to have burial ritual, the loss of that deceased income plays a large part in getting through the grieving process.
The central focus of some of these burial rituals is the eulogy. Just about anyone can so a eulogy, but it is usually the preference of a priest or minister that will perform this part of the service. I remember a service that I and another minister was scheduled to deliver for a young gang member back in Indiana. Most eulogies will paint a picture of the kind of lifestyle that the deceased lived.
For my own conscience, I never want to deliver a eulogy that instantly portrays the deceased as an angel already in heaven. Well, when we were asked to perform this eulogy, the deceased gang members said that if we did not portray their deceased gangster friend as a rough and tuff person, yet he was still going to heaven that they would shoot up the place.
The other minister came to me and asked me what we should do. Well, as we looked out into the audience, we could see all of the gang members filling the sanctuary section of the funeral home where the body was displayed and all of the gang colors on display, it did give quite an intimidating scene.
As we began to discuss how we should approach this, we both agreed to make it brief and very short to get out as soon as possible. Now being a minister, I am obligated to always tell the truth, so when my turn came to speak; I told exactly what was in my heart pertaining to the deceased death.
I could not speak him into heaven, but simply gave them the word of God. To end it, everyone left the funeral in peace and quietly, without any gang activity taking place. It always pays to be truthful during eulogies, but ministers must use discretion on how to tell the truth. This funeral was the scariest funeral I had ever participated in.
Death seems to bring back memories of special events in our lives, no matter where we are and what we are doing. When popular pop singer Michael Jackson died, it was at a time when we were experiencing so many deaths in my wife’s family that year. Of all the deaths that I have had the experience with the most, this one haunted me the most. The Jackson Five, as the world knew them, was a very famous pop group.
But it was the fact that I attended the same high school as Michael Jackson back in Indiana, and to loose someone who was the same age as I at that time bothered me. I became consciously aware more of death than any other stage in my life.
Recently, the death of Leonard Nimoy rattled me a little too. I remember watching the old Star Trek television series as a teenager. His television character portrayed one as logical, intelligent, not one moved by irrational emotions and behavior, and I soon began to develop that same type of thinking about life. By this, others often could describe me as always calm and under control. I was even asked to teach all of ministers at my old church on how to maintain calmness in a chaotic situation.
However, over time I did change a little. When I began to see the humanity in grief, loss, and death in the hearts of the people, I became more effective in helping others deal with these things. I still remain calm, and still do not let impulsive behavior control me in helping with grief and loss. But his character helps me with these things.
In conclusion, we can never prepare for death, even though it is a part of living and is always around us. There are numerous experiences with dealing with death because it happens as often as we wish to believe. It happens every day, at any moment, and involves a variety of circumstances that led up to the final moment.
For those that grieve, there will always be someone to grieve with them and understand it through their own personal experiences. No matter what ritual we chose to bury a loved one, it always leaves a void in our lives