There have been a number of deaths in my family this summer, sometimes expected, sometimes not.
My father was 94 years of age and he should have had a peaceful passing, but he unfortunately suffered the indignity of having a pacemaker fitted.
The absurdity of this contraption in the context of a man nearing 100 years old with a history of heart attacks and strokes was reinforced when a nurse looked pitifully at him and said: ‘He shouldn’t be here; he wants to die.’
Apart from that, as the old Methodists used to say, he had a good death.
But as I said, death has not been a stranger to the Harbinson family this year and it occurred to me, we in the so- called ‘developed’ world tend to have a poor attitude to and understanding of death.
It is, after all, life’s one great inevitability.
Celtic Christianity has quite an interesting view, and I was reading something John O’Donohue wrote in his wonderful little book: Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World.
Imagine if you could talk to a baby in the womb, he suggests, and explain its unity with the mother, how the ‘cord of belonging’ gives it life.
What if you could tell the baby that this arrangement was about to end, that it will soon be expelled from the womb, pushed down a very narrow passage into a new world of what O’Donohue calls vacant open light?
Then you tell the unborn child that this life-giving cord that tied it to mother would be cut, it was going to be on its own ever after.
So, imagine if the baby could talk back, what would it say?
Surely it would tell you that it was afraid it would die.
O’Donohue goes on to say that our difficulty with death is that like the baby, we can see death from only one side, those who die do not come back and so we cannot see the ‘other half of the circle’ that death opens.
In O’Donohue’s Celtic world death is often seen as a rebirth, the soul is set free in a new world where there is neither separation, nor pain nor tears.
He tells the story of a funeral he attended in which a family was laying to rest the body of a 26-year-old son.
A great wail arose from the siblings as the young man’s body was lowered into the grave, but the mother put her arms around her remaining children and said: ‘Let ye be not crying, because there is nothing of him in that box, only the covering that was on him in this life. His soul is free for the eternal.’
As I write I have in front of me an order of service that quotes the date of my friend’s death and adds, ‘Born to eternal life...’
I find that comforting and uplifting, for as Paul the apostle told the church in Thessalonica, ‘We do not sorrow as those who are without hope.’
Adam Harbinson welcomes comments from readers on his weekly Larne Times’ column.
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