November: A Time to Reflect on Death
November is the month the Church suggests we take time to reflect on death. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere and experiencing fall, this seems a fitting time to remember death. The leaves have fallen, the birds have flown south, the temperatures are dropping, and the days are getting shorter. Over the years I have written a lot about death. Today I’ll share a few excerpts from some of my writings about death.
From my book, Gracious Goodness:
Death can be a gift of the Holy Spirit. How? Death shows us the preciousness of our days. Time is made more valuable simply because it is finite. Death also shows us what’s important in life. It helps to put things in perspective. In the face of death a bruised ego is inconsequential, holding grudges is senseless, and working only to amass material goods is foolish. The poet Carlos Castaneda calls death a wise advisor. He says that when we have a difficult decision to make, the only sane thing to do is to “turn to your left and ask advice from your death.”
From Rummaging for God, reflection #95. This is about grief and the pain of loss:
Our pain of loss is often the measure of our love. It is the price we pay for love. Recently I came across a poem written by a little girl that captures beautifully what I am trying to say here:
When my third snail died, I said,
“I’m through with snails.”
But I didn’t mean it.
Our pain of loss may make us cry out, “I’m through with loving.” Hopefully, because of our faith in the life and teachings of Jesus, we won’t mean it.
From With the Dawn Rejoicing:
For Christians, any discussion about death must be anchored in the resurrection of Jesus, that earth-shaking event that is the cornerstone of our faith… We believe the resurrection was not an event for Jesus alone. We believe the resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all of us. Jesus died. Jesus rose. But he takes all of us with him. For us, death is not a terrifying passage into darkness; it is a glorious transition into eternal light. But we don’t need to wait until death to receive the power of the resurrection. That same power is given to us now, working in and through us to transform the world. Reverend Simon Perry explains this well: “If we believe in the resurrection, our hope is invested not only in a God who will bring us through death to live in his presence, but in a God whose living presence transforms our present living.”
Theology Professor Thomas Groome summarizes the impact of the resurrection in these words: “No oppression can hold us bound, no evil can finally triumph, no trouble can rob of us hope, no sin can enslave us, no dependency is beyond recovery, no hurt is beyond healing—if we truly believe that “Christ is risen, risen indeed.”
And finally, here is a consoling image of death I came up with many years ago when both of my parents were still living. This is from Everyday Epiphanies. It is reflection #63 in the 2003 edition and #41 in the 2013 edition.
Heaven is coming home…
On my way home from the meeting, I decide to stop and see Mom and Dad. It’s a cold, dark November evening. Suppertime. As I pull into the driveway I see lights on in the kitchen. Through the window I spot Dad in his red plaid flannel shirt, sitting at the table with his newspaper. Mom, aproned, is standing by the stove stirring something—homemade leek soup, perhaps. Dad, catching sight of me through the window stands up stiffly and slightly stooped. As I step up onto the back porch, Dad opens the door wide and announces cheerfully, “Well, look who’s here!” And I step into the warmth of that kitchen and into the warmth of their embraces.
That’s what it’s going to be like when I die and enter heaven. It will be like stepping out of the cold and darkness, into the warmth and brightness of a homey kitchen, with Mom and Dad there waiting for me. And they will both smile when they see me and open wide their arms. And Dad will announce cheerfully, “Well, look who’s here!”
Did anything stand out for you in today’s reflection.
Do you think about death or pray about death?
Do you have any thoughts about death that you’d like to share with us?
PS #1: Let us ask God’s blessing on the elections in the U.S. May we exercise our precious right to vote. And may the candidates who win be men and women of integrity, compassion, and have a willingness to work with others to promote the common good.
PS#2: November 11 is Veterans Day, a federal holiday honoring all military veterans who have served in the U. S. Armed Forces. November 11 also marks the day when the major hostilities of WW I ended. Today let us pray for all military veterans—especially those in special need. Let us also pray for an end to all hostilities in our world—especially in Ukraine.
Our song is “Christ Our Hope and Life in Death.” It is sung here by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Michael W. Smith.
I invite you to leave a comment below!
Thank you for caring enough to grace us with your thoughts. Mondays are one of the highlights of my week because of you. Today everything touched me…your writings on death as well as the hymn. I have read your Everyday Epiphanies. Now I have to take it off the shelf and reread it!
Thank you for blessing my day/s with your knowledge, wisdom, and beautiful inspiration!
God bless you,
Thank you for such a timely reflection. I’ve been thinking about death a lot as my mother is nearing the end of this life. I mentioned it about two months ago as my daughter was getting married, and Mom had just gotten a diagnosis of a terminal illness. I thank you and the readers who pray for us as we go through this difficult journey.
It has definitely been sad, stressful, and time consuming, but I have found small blessings along the way. The Jesuit practice of finding God in all things has been most helpful to me.
Thank you, Sr. Melannie for your encouragement every Monday!
Sr. Melannie, your example from “Everyday Epiphanies” is beautiful — gloriously beautiful! Thank you!
I really like thinking of death as “Heaven is Coming Home”. Years ago I read Everyday Epiphanies and then lent it to someone else. I haven’t seen it since. But it’s ok because I told the recipient she could pass it on, adding that she not discard it or shelf it indefinitely. Hopefully, someone somewhere is enjoying it. And who knows, maybe it will eventually recycle back to me and I can read it again!
New Amsterdam, Season 2, Episode 13, is one of their most touching and beautiful episodes, and centers around their creating a palliative care wing for their end-of-life patients. (I’ve watched it numerous times, it’s so moving to me.) Helen’s patient, a mathematician, struggles with the concept of death and not being able to define it concretely. She tells him, “I have heard death described as the introduction of ink into water. So it’s not a vanishing; it’s an expansion.” When I visualize the ink, the water, I understand death more fully.
For me, the most beautiful scene is at the end, when Helen’s patient, high on mushrooms, draws his last breath in an imagined snowstorm, among too many flakes to ever count.