"Can you tell me how to die?"
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
~ John 11:25-26
The remarkable thing about death is that it is not something you can ever truly "plan for." This week as I sat with one of my hospice patients, she turned to me and asked, "Can you tell me how to die?"
It took me a moment to respond. Afterall, I encounter people who are dying and witness death each week. As I looked into her eyes, I saw someone who wanted to die with dignity and great grace. I told her, "I guess that is the beauty of dying, there is not right or wrong way of doing it. It is YOUR journey."
She leaned back in her chair, and said, "I figured you would say something like that." She turned and pulled out a pad of paper that contained a list. At the top of the page were these words, "What I want to do on the day I die."
She has lived with the reality that she has a terminal illness for the last few months, and obviously she has had time to think. As I gazed at the page, trying to see what she had written, I noticed lines, marked out, scribbles that had been highlighted, and then a series of numbers that seemed to list her priorities.
When I asked about the list she chuckled. "I used to think I wanted to make sure I had my hair brushed and my bed arranged like some scene out of a movie. I wanted to be that woman who says something filled with wisdom that when people left my death bed, they couldn't speak."
"Then I thought, 'I really hope that I've brushed my teeth. I don't want people leaning over to kiss me goodbye and that I don't have fresh breath.'" She smiled really big, and rolled her eyes, while taking a look my way to see my reaction.
I'm not sure of the face I made, but she sat the paper down, and looked at me. "I want to make sure I do it right."
It's really amazing how we work so hard throughout our lives, trying to love one another, practice random acts of kindness, while creating some kind of legacy, and then we all must deal with the greatest, single most common thing that we all will encounter, and that is our death.
Jesus tries to explain to the disciples, "I am not going to be with you always."
In the garden, he pleads to let an impending cup to pass from him, realizing that he was going to die. Then dies before a crowd of onlookers who are watching and listening to his cries. It was not private, nor did it follow some list from a pad of paper. It was the realization that the creation, made from dust, will be overcomed by the need to return to that dust.
"I've tried to be a good person, in hopes that God will be good to me as I die, and when I die," she said to me.
If truth be told, I think the first thing that any of us hopes for on the day that we die, is that we are ready.
As she picked up her pad of paper, she flipped a page, next was a list of every utility company, subscription, and even the name of her hairdresser. At the top of the page the heading, "The things to do the day after I die." She had made a list of "To Do's" for the day after she dies.
The reality in all of this is that death is our complete loss of control. It is the most complete surrender that we will encounter. As we surrender our final breath, we welcome the most vulnerable spiritual experience we will have yet to encounter.
As I took her hands, laying aside the pad of paper, these words came to me, "On the day I die there is only one thing to do, and that is to trust."
She remained silent for a moment. I noticed a tear beginning to build, and she leaned forward a little more and said, "Yes, that is the answer."
We can make lists, and we can struggle with so many things, but even Jesus trusted enough that on the day he died, he trusted in God to say, "Into Your hands I give my spirit."
Just as it is with our death, so it is with our life, and that is to simply trust that God will always be present, and ready.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
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Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.