David Eagleman writes in “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” about 3 deaths:
The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grace. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time. So you wait in this lobby until the third death. There are long tables with coffee, tea, and cookies – you can help yourself. There are people here from all around the world, and you can try to strike up a conversation with whomever you’d like. Just be aware that your conversation may be interrupted at any moment by the Callers, who call out your conversations partner’s name to indicate there will never again be another remembrance of him by anyone on the Earth. Your partner slumps out, face like a shattered and re-glued plate, saddened even though he’s kindly told by the Callers that he’s off to a better place. No one knows where that better place is, or what it offers, because no one exiting through that door has returned to tell us. Tragically, many people leave just as their loved ones arrive, since the loved ones were the only ones doing the remembering. We all wag our heads at that typical timing.
Death — it’s just… so permanent. I know. Deep.
I had the privilege of being with a family as they were going to take their loved one off of life support. (I didn’t realize how resourceful the Book of Worship was until this past week).
We shared a prayer together and spent the rest of the time just sharing stories about her, about one another, about… life.
The moment was heavy. I didn’t realize how heavy it was until I left the hospital room and felt the gravity of what took place. I know I sound like Marty McFly, but it was heavy.
But as soon as got in my car to drive home, the weight was gone. Maybe it was because I was heading back to the safe place where my wife would be waiting for me. A part of it has to be (and I speak honestly) that it wasn’t a loss that affected me personally — just professionally.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear of death. That third death, when I heard Eagleman talk about in on NPR months ago, has stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it once it a while. I wonder when my name will be last spoken and by whom and why. Will I be talked about after my memorial service? Will I be talked about decades after I’m dead? All the while — why does it matter? Because, you know, I’m dead. Yet, there’s this desire that I exist after I’m gone. And I don’t know why it matters that I exist after I die. Is it too much sci-fi movies? And of course, I desire to exist in a good way after I’m gone.
To be completely honest with you — the assurance of the resurrection; the promise of eternal life — while brings a bit of peace, it doesn’t ease the fear and uncertainty that accompanies death. And as a pastor, death will always be part of the job. There’s no escaping that. And I always fear being asked the dreaded question of “why?” because I never know how to answer it — except, “I don’t know.” which isn’t satisfactory to any of the parties involved.
I’m starting to ramble now — but I remembered the story from David Eagleman today because of the tragic events from this past weekend Isla Vista. And I have nothing comforting or poignant to say because I’m left stunned and speechless. I didn’t realize how things like this takes on a different level of tragedy when it happens so close to home. And there’s this mixture of, I want to help… but I don’t quite know how.
I don’t know what else to say, but am reminded of a story of Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor.
As a young girl, she encountered the lifeless body of a baby and realized that life ends at some point and her loved ones would eventually die. The thought of losing her parents and her sister frightened her.
One night when her father came in to tuck her into bed, Corrie — sobbing — grabbed her father and said, “I need you. You can’t die! You can’t!”
“Corrie,” he said as he began to comfort her, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”
She thought about the question. “Why, just before I get on the train.”
“Exactly. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”
Many years later, Corrie and her family were sent to Nazi concentration camps. She was painfully confronted with the deaths of her parents and sister. She endured and saw many hardships that she never could’ve imagined as a child. But she always remembered her father’s words and they proved to be true. “You will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.” She always found the strength she needed in her heart, just in time.
May those people grieving find the strength they need in their hearts and in the hearts of others.