HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 31, 2013 – 12:00am
During Holy Week when more than half of the population seems to be going somewhere else, I can’t help but feel the speed of life slow down to a crawl with each passing hour.
In the Christian world, it is officially a time of sadness, suffering and death. I thought I could relate to it easier this year since I will be mostly in the city with no real plans for vacationing anywhere. I will be left here with the debilitating heat and a lot of thinking time on my hands. It might also be a good time to think about death since I have lately been experiencing the demise of distant relatives, friends, colleagues, etc.
I must confess I think of death a lot. I have been doing so for a few years now. Every year that I live, I hear more and more of friends and relatives and people I know dying.
Every time I hear of any death on news radio, or read about it or see it on TV, I am taken aback. I literally pause even if shortly to honor them, whoever they are. I am not oblivious to the fact that death happens, and that it will happen to everyone. I also do not wish to ever become oblivious or blasé to the important fact that each person who dies leaves a family, or a community, maybe some loved ones, and a life like my own spent on trying to make sense of what it all means, among many other deep questions. Every person leaves a mark on the world he/she has helped shape. And the world has shaped him/her as well. And because of this, every passing is a loss.
Death is inevitable. This we know. But what lies after it has been kept a big secret from us if we speak from a rational/scientific point of view. The afterlife is the biggest question with no one single definitive answer that will satisfy everyone. But even outside science, death is engaging us in all ways. It is amazing how the phenomenon of death is mind-boggling from almost all aspects — scientific, physical, social, religious, spiritual, and even legal. It is a big deal — the biggest, perhaps.
My sister in-law Janet Pimentel’s father died in a hospital just a few days ago. He had been ill for some weeks. He died peacefully. My brother Raffy witnessed him go through his progressive weakening, the administering of the Sacrament of the Dying and his ultimate end surrounded by his loved ones. He described it as a beautiful death.
My sister in-law Rosanne’s husband Rick Watson passed on a few weeks ago, too after a long illness. By all accounts, and from her description, Rick also had a beautiful one.
I guess I can also say the same thing for my mother and father in-law when they died. They both died of cancer. My mother in-law died at home while cared for by nurses with the help of her children. My father-in-law left everything in great order when he died. There was nothing vague about where his estate would go. He was a good father and a lawyer. Above all, he prepared himself spiritually to meet his Maker in a manner that was compatible with his faith.
At my age now, I have already heard and seen a quite a few of what people call “beautiful deaths” and I have a greater understanding of it.
What makes a death beautiful?
I think all beautiful deaths have some things in common. Here are some: the one who died had enough time to contemplate his own life. He was able to come to terms with how he lived. He also faced up to his weaknesses and faults, strengths and gifts and was able to own the truth of who he was with unconditional acceptance.
This can imply a lot of things, but in the end it probably means he must have attempted to grapple with all of his issues, especially those involving forgiving himself and others and asking for forgiveness from other people and making peace with his God.
This is definitely not a walk in the park. It may be the hardest thing a person may have to do. By nature, we avoid what is difficult and threatening to the unreal image of who we are, and embrace our own made-up illusions.
One of my wishes is to go quickly, hopefully not dying after a prolonged illness. To be sick for sometime brings great financial burdens for loved ones to settle after you die. It takes away precious time from them too, and causes suffering. The one good thing about it is, one has the time to think, prepare and ponder what one must do to fix things, and purify himself before going.
I want death to come quickly, if I could have my way. But I know I must always be ready for it to happen anytime. I should therefore not get into nor entertain long festering fights. No time for that. No harboring of hatred of others too, and immediately forgiving and not hesitating about asking for forgiveness when needed. I must also learn more and more the life art of appreciating people and things.
I am nowhere near all this, in truth, even if I try to live my days like this. It seems like an ideal. But try; I do. It is clear to me that if I live my life like this — without all the baggage and garbage — it will be a great life that will no doubt prepare me for a beautiful death when and how it happens.
I may not have a long spell of suffering to have the time to figure everything out. That’s okay. Maybe no one can really figure everything out completely anyway. Or maybe the answers and meanings one person gets may be so different that it is not applicable to others. But a life lived with a spiritual practice of contemplation can prepare you somewhat.
A beautiful death does not have to be a drawn-out affair. It only means the person whose condition has been leading to death must have some spiritual, emotional and religious closure. And whatever physical state we are in, it is good to be reminded that we are always closer to death. Hopefully, we will not leave too many unresolved issues that may arise after we die that will still cause great concern to anyone.
The quality of one’s death I believe can largely be dictated by the quality of how one’s life is lived. The more meaningful and consciously purposeful the life lived, the more it will be appreciated and missed. I am not referring to a life lived in a large manner that affects a lot of people. It is not about the social status one enjoyed while alive, but how one lived it within his own context.
Can a death be an ugly one? From the standpoint of the living, the answer has to be “yes.” We hear of it almost daily. But even when death comes to someone and it appears to be senseless and brutal, I am comforted by an abiding faith that a God of unconditional love awaits on the other side. So how can any death, whatever the circumstances, not be beautiful when it is the portal through which the soul will experience its greatest, happiest moment, and that is the reunion with its Creator?
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