We Are All Going to Die

July 22, 2012 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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You may notice that I’ve been AWOL the past few weeks. I’ve been travelling. Six days in Toronto in June, followed by a little rest and then ten days in Berkeley and in Southern California. I intended to keep posting  while I was on the road, but it just didn’t happen. Too much else to deal with, especially my own emotions.

I went to Toronto to visit a dear college friend who is dying of metastatic breast cancer. I managed to fit in some visits with other Toronto friends, by mostly I just talked with and helped my friend, Margaret, while her husband was away at a conference. Since I came home, she has stopped chemotherapy and gone into hospice.

Throughout everyone’s life, people die. My grandfather, “Poppie,” died when I was five. When I was thirty-two, my Grail friend and mentor, Eleanor Walker, died, also of metastatic breast cancer. A few years back, my mother died at the age of ninety-three.

These deaths affected me greatly. I adored my grandfather. But I was five. His death didn’t make me think I was going to die. And Eleanor’s death at the age of fifty-nine was a genuine tragedy; she had been so full of life. But I was thirty-two. Fifty-nine seemed ages away. And while my mother’s death did make me think some about my own mortality, it also made me think that I might live as long as she had, that is, for thirty more years.

Margaret’s death is another matter entirely. You may recall that I turned sixty-five in April. Margaret is two months younger than I am; we celebrated her birthday during my visit. The thought of losing her makes me sick. I was in her wedding. She came down to Philly from Toronto for my father’s funeral. In the 1980s, we met in Venice after a theological meeting she’d attended and rode through the canals in gondolas and talked non-stop for several glorious days. More recently I visited her during her sabbatical at the Ecumenical Institute at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. When I think about our praying vespers with the monks in the abbey church, I start to cry.

Margaret’s dying forces me think much more concretely about my own death. There’s no way to portray this as some terrible mistake, however painful it is. I am already doing things like not having the faintest idea why I just dashed into the kitchen; when I go back to my office, it comes to me, so then I dash back.  I can’t deny that people my age die, and I will too, before long.

I am trying to slow down and be present to this reality. Those of you who know me realize that this will be no small feat; slowing down is hardly a category in my mind. But I am determined. This means I may be slow to post on my blog sometimes. But perhaps when I do, what I write will be more worth reading.

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  1. I couldn’t let that last line go – everything you write is worth reading; in fact, if you grow any more profound, not to mention witty, we’ll only clamor for more and more. That said, I am truly sorry about your friend and your pending loss. I send my love. Ellie

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  2. Gorgeous, thoughtful, moving. Thank you. A dear friend is in Dallas today for her father’s funeral. He was sick for 10 days with West Nile encephalitis, which you get from a mosquito bite. He was fine on the 4th of July and two weeks later her was dead. Your words somehow help me to hold this loss with more ease. Thanks.

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    • Thanks for your response, Jeannette dear. I’m with you.

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  3. Thank you, Marian, for this moving reflection. I recognize so many “pieces” of your story in my own life. I have a dear colleague who often reflects on the many losses in her life the latest one being her mentor, William Shannon, the Merton scholar. She tells me that when a low point occurs for her she just keeps chanting the antiphon: Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life”. It works well in the middle of a dark night!

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  4. Jenny, I love that antiphon and am going to try singing it when I am “slowing down.” Thanks.

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  5. Thank you for sharing. I am not ready to die, especially now that I have a beautiful child. I will just savor as much as I can and know that there is so much out of my control.

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  6. Our culture doesn’t want us to accept that death is part of the life cycle, but as we age, and our dear friends die, we begin to realize that we do have to accept it, as it will happen and though we are never ready for it, the more accepting we can be, the better we can deal with it when it does happen.
    Thanks for your beautiful thoughts, and I will keep looking for more of them, even if I can’t remember where I put the thing that I went into the kitchen looking for . . .

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  7. [...] It was originally titled “The Death of Vatican II,” but given the title of the piece I posted last week, I thought something more upbeat might be in [...]

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