“Happy is the man who keeps the hour of death always in mind, and daily prepares for it.”
Thomas á Kempis was surely very correct when he wrote those words in “The Imitation of Christ,” but let’s face it, many of us don’t get very happy when we think about what will happen when we die.
One reason for this reluctance to contemplate our death may be that we simply get too caught up in the nitty-gritty details of life to look beyond the here and now. And in a popular culture that is all too willing to show violent deaths in movies, television and video games but loath to examine the pain those deaths bring to family and friends in their aftermath, the last things have all been removed from most of society.
|Serve your loved ones by having the hard conversations about your last wishes. Shutterstock
Another element of this, I believe, is fear. Yes, as Catholics we believe in eternal life. Yet fear of the unknown can test that faith, and, furthermore, do we know how we’ll be spending eternal life?
Pope Benedict XVI addressed such fear in his Nov. 2, 2011, general audience:
“Why has humanity, for the most part, never resigned itself to the belief that beyond life there is simply nothing? I would say that there are multiple answers: we are afraid of death because we are afraid of that nothingness, of leaving this world for something we don’t know, something unknown to us. And, then, there is a sense of rejection in us because we cannot accept that all that is beautiful and great, realized during a lifetime, should be suddenly erased, should fall into the abyss of nothingness. Above all, we feel that love calls and asks for eternity and it is impossible to accept that it is destroyed by death in an instant.”
As this week’s In Focus (Pages 9-12) section teaches us, we must cast aside our fear and reluctance when it comes to the end of our life. Thinking about how we will spend our final days — and having subsequent conversations with family and loved ones about it — is a vital part of our Catholic faith. We need to ensure all end-of-life decisions are made in line with Church teaching, and that those who are closest to us understand our decisions.
We also must have those discussions to prepare ourselves — and our friends and family — for the inevitable. I learned that lesson the hard way when my father, Robert Hayes, was at the end of his life in summer 2011 (see story, Page 11). Sure, the final weeks of his life would still have been painful even if we had been fully prepared, but not knowing his wishes beforehand added to the anguish, not only as he was dying but in the weeks afterward.
Having had that experience — and having edited this week’s In Focus — I am resolved to think about and plan for my own death. As someone who is not yet 40, it is easy to put such thoughts on the back burner. Yet I only have to remember the wisdom of St. Thomas More to spur me into action: “We never ought to look toward death as a thing far off, considering that although he makes no haste toward us, yet we never cease to make haste toward him.”
What has been your experience with end-of-life talks with loved ones? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.