“If I should die before I wake….” A child’s prayer my little sister and I sometimes spoke together at bedtime, not totally aware of what we were saying, I think, or we would have kept our eyes open and not slept a wink! How often have people used the image of slumber to depict dying? I see it on the artist’s canvas; I hear it in the poet’s verse, and read the phrases… Eternal slumber… Sleep of death… Slumber’s trance…
When the young grandchildren came to say goodbye to Gary, he looked like he was sleeping, except he could no longer be awakened, now just hours from dying. They touched his hand and kissed him goodbye, but none of them heard him answer the question that I had asked him earlier in the week,
“What are you most afraid of, Gary?”
He had been experiencing significant restlessness, especially at night: getting out of bed to move furniture around the house, telling his wife he needed to get packed for the trip… Keeping oh so busy; avoiding going to sleep, and dreading staying asleep. He answered my question emphatically, “I’m afraid to go to sleep, and not wake up. I’m afraid of dying”.
He spoke the words aloud, the fear we all share: this sleep, so akin to dying, chaperoning us into another realm, the land of dreams and wanderings. I remember each of my children, at a very young age, being afraid of the dark, and waking with fears in the night. No one taught them to be afraid. They were born with the knowledge that approaching darkness and death awaits all humans. Somehow, they knew to tremble. In our rational adult minds, we say things like, “Don’t be frightened; there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I have heard many people say, “I am not afraid to die” but I have witnessed the journey they made to arrive at that place, of fearlessness. They worked hard to get there. And, yes, many, many people die unafraid. They have faced their terrors. They have “looked death in the eye”. They have done the incredibly difficult task of recognizing their rapidly disappearing known existence. They have prepared for the unknown, the “next voyage”…life after death. Gary finally achieved this.
What have the dying taught us? Embrace death while loving life; Love well- those in this life that will remember you, after you are gone. Believe in their love. Rest in their love.
Love, the incarnate hand that is
stretching into eternity…
…“I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”