My father-in-law was found dead this week at the home of my husband’s brother with whom he had lived for the last year. Though he was in challenged health, this event was totally unexpected. When my brother-in-law came home from work, after a quick search, he found Woody motionless on the laundry room floor. The medical personnel suggested he had had a heart attack and “never knew what hit him.”
Death is a fearsome subject for most people. It’s one of our common bonds. We will all die, we’re told. The Grim Reaper is a scary specter.
One of the facets of this story that could make it tragic is that Woody had seemingly died alone. However, my mother who had been a nurse to the dying told story after story of the greetings offered by a dying person to the previously departed. “Mother, there you are.” Or “Here I am, Daddy.” Smiles on weak faces and hands outstretched to passed-on loved ones. These stories, while not universally shared, I think are universally encountered. Mary Baker Eddy spoke candidly of this: “In the vestibule through which we pass from one dream to another dream, or when we awake from earth’s sleep to the grand verities of Life, the departing may hear the glad welcome of those who have gone before. The ones departing may whisper this vision, name the face that smiles on them and the hand which beckons them, as one at Niagara, with eyes open only to that wonder, forgets all else and breathes aloud his rapture.” Just as we won’t enter this life without at least one other person with us, we don’t leave it alone, either. I think some are simply more showy about it.
Another more embedded belief about death is that it is the END. I saw an inspired teaching once in which the teacher had a five-gallon bucket and a hula-hoop as a visual. He put the hula-hoop upright into the top of the bucket. If you imagine the bucket as this material existence, and the hoop as your actual life, you can see that 1) it has no end, and 2) only a portion of it is inside the bucket. You might think of it linearly—as you travel the hoop, there is a time when you’re in the bucket and then when you are out of it. I prefer to think of it as an already-eternal existence some of which is in material form but most of which is not. Contrary to the popular adage, we are spiritual beings having a spiritual existence, in material form. (Gives a whole new meaning to ‘kick the bucket,’ no?)
Finally, probably the most frightening false belief about death is that it’s all powerful. We don’t know when, we don’t know where. Life could be snatched from you without notice or your permission. It’s irreversible and unstoppable. It’s capricious and final. Well, my bible says that “Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” To fear death as all-powerful and all-encompassing is to make it a false god in competition with God. We’re later told not to bow down to or serve false gods that we have made because God is a jealous God. Anything we put up next to God, even our ideas of evil and death, pale in comparison until they simply vanish.
While it is practical to make plans for one’s body that will remain after one’s transition, it is a complete affront to God to believe that death can separate you from Him, and through Him, his spirit children. Literally, there is no place else to go. The kingdom of heaven is within you and “at hand.” You can’t have more of heaven than you can right this moment, and the mortal idea of death just can’t mess that up. One pastor I knew described death as going from one room in a house (God’s house!) to another. Death, as Mrs. Eddy writes, is the passing from one dream to another or an awakening from sleep to life’s “grand verities.” Everyone’s had the experience of coming home from a trip and finding overwhelming comfort and familiar surroundings. What could be sad about that?
“Rest in Peace” is the message for the REST of us.