In Th’ early morning
Death met me, bleary eyed
Nodded and with a yawn
tipped dusty brow with shrouded hand
desperate to recover
The hill Oblivious
I slipped quietly out
Growing steadily more aware
Watching a man die is a strange but not an uncommon experience in the life of a pastor. My first experience was in an Adult Emergency department. Those who work in the AED are a part of a surreal community. They battle Death regularly and often successfully, but it leaves them with a strange sense of humor. In the hospital, Death was a regular part of the conversation. Out of the hospital, people were often uneasy with the subject.
I had a professor in an undergraduate class claim that if you want to know what the taboos are in a society look for euphemisms, i.e. kick the bucket, buy the farm, bite the big one, shuffle off this mortal coil etc. etc. (this is true of sex in America as well, despite the comfort we claim to have with the “casual” nature of it). We are wildly uncomfortable with the idea of Death. We look to science/modern medicine to cure us of it and we deify/ demonize it in movies like Final Destination and other horror films. Death, for many of us, is the only real force of evil we believe in.
The strange thing about such attitudes is this: since the beginning of time, every human being has died (Christians would say that this is not a permanent condition). Our days are numbered as it were (Ps 39:4). In the hospital I would sometimes get to chat with people who had faced the concept of their death and had come to terms with it. These conversations were a privilege. People who are dying have a remarkable clarity about their lives. It is as though all their concerns, all the things we worry about on a regular basis, have passed through an emotional furnace. The only ones that remain are the important ones; almost exclusively, they want to talk about their family, where they stand with God, and the meaning of it all. I wonder if we could handle living with such honesty.