Books examine dying, death and those left behind

By on April 1, 2003

If attendance figures mean anything, Good Friday gets short shrift compared to the celebration of Easter in the Anglican Church of Canada. Perhaps this is not surprising. Death is a reality that our society prefers not to think about. Increasingly, old-fashioned funerals have given way to unreal sojourns in funeral parlours where the ‘slumber rooms’ and canned sentimental music provide a bromide for mourners. “Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.” So writes Richard John Neuhaus in As I Lay Dying.

Seriously afflicted with cancer, he recounts misadventures with medical staff that are all too familiar. However, it added to his sense that, “in my own experience of dying, it struck me as so very commonplace, even trite, that this life should end this way.”

This is a revealing account of one person’s inner thoughts about living and dying as he lay at the threshold of death. What does it mean to die? What of my body and my soul? How does my faith relate to what happened?

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[pullquote]Then, upon returning there is the struggle to be well, passing from helplessness to life regained. This is a gentle prod for thinking about death — and life.

Following on death is the grieving by those who mourn and certainly, for all of us, that process has been brought sharply into focus by the recent deaths of the seven Calgary students who died in an avalanche while skiing, and the five men of Musgrave Harbour, Nfld., who were lost at sea.

How does one deal with such loss? For Wendy Dean, devastated in 1993 when her 18-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident, it was by keeping a journal of her innermost feelings and reactions. She shares her experience in Journaling a Pathway Through Grief which will be a great help to any who have lost children prematurely, and all who struggle on the journey through grief.

In order to relate to her readers she considers some of the work of the “bereavement writers and speakers” who have so influenced how grief is approached today. She found the clinical texts “alienating, prescriptive and overly simplistic. More importantly, they failed to capture the depth or complexity of what I was feeling.” The grief journey is always intensely individual and unique.

Her concluding advice: “Trust your instincts about what you need to do and how you need to be … Try not to be afraid to engage fully in the soul journey and its requirements to ‘go down,’ knowing that true healing will derive from this deep interior passage.”

In Sojourner: Finding Faith Beyond Hope, Kawuki Mukasa creates a fascinating story reflecting realities he has known around death and dying involving close and estranged family members and friends of the one who is dying. It is the time when truths emerge and reactions are pivotal. It is a time when relationships are put to the test and circumstances draw people to investigate themselves.

This book, with study guide provided, will be a valuable asset for church groups who want to reflect on the ramifications of death in the course of life. How do we relate in the presence of death? Where is God in all this?

Jesus died a stinking, messy death on the cross. There was nothing refined about it. His death had a devastating effect on his family, friends and followers. They had been filled with hopes. But as we all know, hope can be illusory. Is it only in the “faith beyond hope” that we come to know the reality of Resurrection? Without Good Friday can there be a true Easter Day?

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