a priest's musings on the journey
Monday, April 07, 2008
Death be not proud.......
Death wanders through our lives at will, sweet Death
Is busy with each intake of our breath.
Why do you fear her? Lo, her laughing face
All rosy with the light of jocund grace !
A kind and lovely maiden culling flowers
In a sweet garden fresh with vernal showers,
This is the thing you fear, young portress bright
Who opens to our souls the worlds of light.
Is it because the twisted stem must feel
Pain when the tenderest hands its glory steal?
Is it because the flowerless stalk droops dull
And ghastly now that was so beautiful ?
Or is it the opening portal's horrid jar
That shakes you, feeble souls of courage bare?
Death is but changing of our robes to wait
In wedding garments at the Eternal's gate.
- Sri Aurobindo
Have you ever seen Death? I don't mean a dead person or creature or the consequences of death. Have you seen Death? A parishioner once told me the story of his grandfather's passing. He had been ill and they knew he only had days to live. One afternoon, all of the family had gathered around him. Some were talking to him; some were singing hymns and reading Bible verses. Others prayed. Then suddenly and dark chill entered the room- he could see the death angel move through the air, and he said to himself, "Death is here. Grandpa's time has come."
I haven't seen Death or the "death angel", but I've felt its presence plenty of times in my ministry as a priest. I once witnessed the death of a saintly woman who had lived almost 100 years. She had lived a holy life- if anyone had followed the way of Jesus, she had. I was called to her bedside because she was going to be removed from life support, at the request of the family, and her death was imminent. We said a prayer, the Litany in the Prayer Book and a few Hail Mary's, and then she the tubes were removed. I anointed her with oil and asked that the Presence of Christ would be with her and that she would be taken to Heaven by the angels. Of course her children were sad and devastated; but when Death came, there was a joyous serenity that filled the room. We all knew she was going to be with God.
I have witnessed other deaths that weren't as hopeful or peaceful. I have witnessed men cursing God with their last breath; I've seen others fight and struggle to gain one more breath. I've seen children taken from their families before their life had even begun. Once I was even asked to baptize a child that had died. (I know there are theological issues with that, but my pastor's heart told me to do it anyway... and so I did). In almost all of these occasions, one could feel the air change as the a chill filled the room just moments before Death's departure with the soul of the one whose time to take their journey across the waters of the Jordan.
It must seem odd that as we enter the middle of the celebration of our Lord's Resurrection that I would write about death; after all, aren't we celebrating Christ's victory over Death? I agree it's an odd subject for Eastertide... and I wouldn't contemplate anything other than Death's annihilation by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ if it weren't for the fact that I feel Death lurking about this night. No, I am fine. I am not in any danger- as far as I know. But I fear someone that I know is. This evening I saw this person and I also saw Death- or at least I felt Death- I felt the fear of Death and that same chill that I had felt in the hospital rooms before. As I looked at this person this afternoon, I could see nothing but utter darkness; the darkness of Death enveloped them totally. This person is not ill; but s/he is suicidal. And this night I fear Death is courting. I've talked with this person on several occasions about their suicidal thoughts. I hear them and I take them seriously. I don't see this person's life so tragic or problematic that suicide seems like a solution- in fact s/he has a wonderful life- as I see it... And then, as I see it isn't really the point. S/he must be feeling so trapped and hopeless. I just wish s/he could find a spark of hope that would will him/her to live.
S/he is sleeping at the moment- When s/he sleeps s/he can escape the suicidal thoughts. S/he sleeps and I am keeping watch with them... praying, praying, praying to Our Lord, the Holy Mother of God and all the saints... and yet, I feel so powerless. I can listen; I can offer my compassion and love; I can weep and pray- but I can do nothing more. I can not make her/him will to live- and yet, I can not just let it happen. I stand and fight- I pray to the Lord of Life and hope that He will rescue His Servant from the gates of Death and lead him back to the paths of Life. I ask God to send Death away this Night- I am not willing to see this beloved child of God leave this night. I can't believe his/her journey is finished. S/he has so many talents and so much potential- s/he has so much beauty in her/his heart... She has the potential to change the world......
I feel death near.... but Death can't be stopping here tonight..........
O God make speed to save us
O Lord make haste to help us.
Suicide is very often caused by depression. In fact an ongoing sense of sadness and depression can be a sign of suicidal tendencies, especially if accompanied with other signs like:
# Withdrawing from family and friends.
# Sleeping too much or too little.
# Feeling tired most of the time.
# Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.
# Making statements such as these:
# I can't go on any longer."
# "I hate this life."
# "There's no point to this stupid life."
# "Everyone would be better off without me."
# "Life is not worth living."
# "Nothing matters anymore."
Other signs for suicide may be found here
More information on suicide prevention may be found here.
if you observe any of these signs- or even suspect that a person might be suicidal- take it seriously. Get help.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 5:08 PM
Thank you for this article. Please pray for my father.
I was profoundly moved by this Rob. We need to think about death a lot more in fact every day would be good. You are not totally powerless because you can pray and watch. You are Christ helping this person now. Thank God for that. And Christ is in the suicidal person too - now there is a mystery!