There’s one person I know who isn’t scared of dying. That’s my mother. At 96 she says she has no qualms about dying, and I believe her. She easily gets tired by the physical process of everyday life and the effects of advanced age but she isn’t tired of life. She has a constant procession of visitors to her room who tell me that visiting her makes them feel better.
I sometimes wonder whether western society has got itself into a way of thinking that death is unnatural and have become scared of it. Death can be untimely and it can feel unjust. But death is the one certain thing about life. We now seem to have convinced ourselves that doctors should be able to cure every disease and repair every damaged part of our bodies. When they don’t, they have failed. No matter how clever we are in medical science and health care, we can only extend life not ultimately deny death.
As the swine flu pandemic takes a firmer hold, we may be in danger of scaring ourselves to death through being scared of dying. The more we are told ‘don’t panic’, the more we panic. After all they would only tell us not to panic if there really is something to panic about – that’s the way our perverse logic can go.
Christian Aid has the telling slogan – We believe in life before death. Perhaps we should all apply it to ourselves rather than only see it in the context of those who go hungry. Live life, enjoy being alive each day. Stop being scared of our own dying and only worry about those whose deaths we cause through wars and the unjust systems we support.
I once heard Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, being interviewed on BBC Radio 4. He has to live with death threats from those who feel threatened by the fact that he is gay. His words have stuck in my mind – death is not the worst thing that can happen in life.
[If you are wondering where the heading ‘Tired of living, scared of dying’ comes from, it is from the song Old Man River from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat – saves you having to Google it!]