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25. Let’s not think about death!

Every year, during the month of October, the city of Sheffield hosts Off the Shelf, one of the largest literary festivals in the UK. Well over 100 authors introduce their recently published book and respond in a Q&A session.

I’ve been to several events this month. The most enjoyable was the Guardian sketch-writer John Crace, promoting his latest book. Firth Hall in the University of Sheffield was jam-packed. Quite often I read his column, so it was interesting to see him in the flesh as he shed light on himself as a journalist and his current take on the state of affairs in the UK.

Yesterday I read his Digested Week in Saturday’s Guardian. Here’s how he started!

Monday The only thing any of us can be certain about is that we will die. Most of us, myself included, only manage to cope with this knowledge by burying it deep into the subconscious and living each day as if we and those we love are immortal.  I’m much less of a hypochondriac than I was 20 years ago and I’m still not sure whether that is a sign of improved mental health or whether my levels of denial about the inevitable have dug in deeper.  

Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of love and Loss by Rachel Clarke should be essential reading for all of us.

He goes on to positively review her soon to be published book, Dear Life, the story of her work as a palliative care doctor – a touching and profound meditation on what it means to be human. …We can’t all choose the manner of our death – some will be gentle, some violent, some quick, some prolonged – but we can choose how we live with that knowledge.

I don’t know anything about the book, so am not recommending it, but it looks good*. The reason I’m quoting John Crace, however, is that since Robert died I’ve encountered many people like John Crace who don’t want to, or can’t, consider the fragility of life and have few words in their vocabulary to discuss it.

Some people have said they think there’s ‘something’ after we die but they don’t know what. Others say they’ve sensed the presence of someone they love but can’t say more. Others think we all deserve something better after death but…

Reflecting seriously on our own death                                                                                 We make contributions into a pension fund. We take out extra pensions and insurance policies. We want protection in an uncertain future which is beyond our control. We make a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) provision in the event of a heart attack, take out a funeral plan, write our will. We’re making our material desires known to lessen the burden on those we love, as and when we die.

Burying our head in the sand in order to postpone any serious thinking about our death is bizarrely short-sighted. What do we need to know about the dying process and what happens to our body? And what happens to our soul after death? Is there nothingness or something more?

Naturally, since Robert’s death I’ve thought a lot about death, my own mortality and what I say about it. Whenever someone has expressed sadness, I tell them I’m sad, but I believe Robert is alive in a new way, with a new body.

It’s all because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. He’s the only person who has ever come back to earth from beyond death. There are incidents of people pronounced dead who’ve then been revived, including the biblical examples of Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. But no one has appeared whose body is the same yet different.

So why does this matter?                                         

Christians can be confident they will be with Christ in eternity. By his resurrection, Jesus has conquered the fear of and consequences of death. Their resurrection life will bear some similarity to Jesus’ post-resurrection existence on earth.

Those who believe in some sort of afterlife may be subconsciously looking for greater certainty. They may need a vocabulary to help them articulate what they believe and have never heard anyone talk coherently about Jesus’ resurrection and Christian hope.

Those in denial when thinking about death may be busy, distracted, fearful of the unknown. Often the death of someone they love shocks them into dragging their head out of the sand! They too may know little about Jesus’ resurrection.

I’ve often reflected on those who think death is the end of all existence. The person who has died will have left a legacy (and not just in their will). But without the hope of eternity, their grief and sorrow must be very different from mine, and much more desperate.

You’re a great sketch writer, John Crace! But don’t go on burying your head in the sand!

This is a work in progress…

I know God’s mind is unfathomable, yet he invites us to wonder and to strive to know him more deeply. I know Robert is with Christ.  I know my story is unique. But, in my grief, I want to know more…I want to know whether Robert is asleep, ‘disembodiedly’ conscious or has already received his resurrection body.

Writing the Sudden death…then what? blog over many months has channelled my thinking. Most people haven’t thought much about this, so I’m sharing my embryonic conclusions about resurrection bodies, eternity, life – plus reflections on the specific impact of sudden death. I wrote this 27th October 2019.I’ve now read ‘Dear Life’ – a thought-provoking book and a good read. I’ll post a comment in a few weeks’ time!

  • I’ve now read Dear Life. It’s a thought-provoking and good read. I’ll post something about it on the blog in the near future.

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