Warning! Super long post! The Squirrel is in a philosophical mood.
Last weekend was Easter and thoughts of all Christians (including me) was focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, two other deaths occurred over that weekend that made me ponder the whole issue of life and death. Or more specifically, how our view of life affects our view of death and vice versa.
At my church’s Good Friday service, one of the thoughts that we meditated on was the fact that Jesus told his disciples that when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, he would be arrested and he would be killed but in spite of that, he went anyway. A death wish? Christians sometimes say that Jesus was born to die.
All of us die, eventually. If we are born then we will die. But of Jesus it is believed that his whole life led to one purpose and that was to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. (of course, on Easter, we celebrate his rising from the dead, victorious over death itself). But my point was that Jesus lived his life with the knowledge that his life’s ultimate purpose would be fulfilled by his death.
Please note that death was not something pleasant even for Jesus. He knew his death was going to be terrible and costly physically, mentally and spiritually; that is why he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That is why he wept for Lazarus, his friend who had died, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Death is not a good thing.
However, Jesus willingly laid down his life for others because he saw his life purpose fulfilled with his death.
That led me to my first thought:- that we could face death with with more peace if we believed that our lives had purpose and we have lived it to the full.
Last Friday, I also learned about the death of one very sweet and very inspiring lady. Her name was Sharon and she died of cancer. The doctors had given her less than 6 months to live but she fought on for 21 months. She had her chemotherapy and suffered through the hair loss and nausea. She had periods when she was desperately ill and others where it seemed like she was almost untouched by the disease. But through even the worse of it, she was always ready with a smile and encouragement for those around her. In fact, her friends say that she smiled with her whole face.
And giving encouragement to others was just what she did. During those 21 months, she took care of her family and friends, ministering to those who had come to minister to her and she used her energy to set up a Cancer support group for patients and care givers that has been a blessing to several hundred people already.
This was a very special woman and I must add that her compassion for cancer victims did not start only when she herself was stricken by the disease but some 30 years earlier, she had already started to do voluntarily work which included raising money for disabled and abandoned children, and providing support for cancer patients who had their life savings swindled by con men offering fake cures. Her efforts made such an impression that she was given the keys to the city. Amazing achievements, I am sure you would agree but I never heard about any of this from Sharon herself. I only learned about it from the eulogies at her funeral – which only emphasizes just how rare a life Sharon lived.
She had fought the disease as much as she possibly could but she never stopped living life as she wanted to. She spent her last days spending time with her loved ones (including a couple of holidays), going out to eat her favorite foods (even when she was not able to eat more than a spoonful) and most of all, still serving and encouraging others.
But, as her life spark began to ebb for the final time, she was at peace. Death did not scare her because she was confident in her faith that God who had been with her though it all was ready to lead her to everlasting life after death.
This led me to my second reflection; if we have hope beyond death, we are able to enjoy life to the full and still be able to let go when the time comes and not cling on to life in desperation and fear.
This is the antidote to the unhappy state that is referred to by the poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote these poignant but sad lines about his dying father;
Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The tragedy of the sinking of the Korean ferry is very much in the news; a tragedy made worse by the fact that so many of the victims were young students from a High School near Seoul. At the moment of this posting, 104 have been confirmed dead and 198 are still missing. This is so very sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all who have perished.
However, it was the story about the school vice-principle that really touched me. He was one of the 174 fortunate ones that were picked up and rescued from the sinking ferry. He had been brought back on land. He had been given a second chance at life.
He was found a couple of days later hanging from a tree. Apparently, he had committed suicide. He was given a second chance at life and he chose to end it.
Why did he do it? I am sure he felt he had his reasons. It could have been from a sense of responsibility as he had organised the school trip. It could have been through a sense of fear of the anger of the bereaved parents; how could he face them? It could have been through a sense of guilt; why did he survive when so many young people died? I don’t know what was going through his mind that he thought he had to end his life.. It may seem that he had wasted his second chance but I don’t blame him or judge him. I am just sorry that there was no one there for him at that moment when he needed help.
But as I thought about it, I came to my third reflection; when we have no more hope in life, then death is welcomed.
Now most of us don’t think much about death and dying cause we are too busy with living and death seems distant. But I think death sets the context and helps us understand life just as we cannot really understand and appreciate light if we have not experience darkness, sweetness if we haven’t experience sourness etc.
I know I have been incredibly reflective and sombre. Thank you for sticking with me if you have made it this far down the post. I guess what I have been trying to say is that we need to examine our understanding of the end of life so that we can live our lives wisely. I always say that my one wish is to “die happy” cause that must mean that I look back at my life without regret and look forward with hope.