One of the many privileges that I have had over my life-time is that of being at the deaths of several loved ones. Each experience caused me to reflect on John Donne’s words, “…the bell tolls for thee.” When I lived in South America, I watched people deal with the prospect of eminent death every day. Death was accepted as an inevitable part of life. When I visited India I watched people live contentedly on the edge, never knowing when a slip of the hand or foot would lead to catastrophe and ultimately to demise.
Here is the United States we take life for granted. It is our right. It is in our Declaration of Independence. We are entitled to life. Death is for the other guy, or in more modern times, it is a thing that we read about in the paper, watch on television, stare transfixed at the Hollywood of death versions in the movies. We rarely allow ourselves to encounter the real thing. Sometimes we collect money for children with leukemia; we walk for a cure for cancer; we move to neighborhoods where we think that our children will be safe from stray bullets fired by drug dealers and their customers. We try to prevent death. We eat only organic food, make sure that we take our omega 3 vitamins and join gyms to insure that we get the proper amount of exercise. We even write our own marriage vows to omit those words, “’Til death do us part.” Death is something that we try to deal with by avoiding. I believe that the western world has become so secularized that we no longer think of death as the beginning of a new life.
When you are on death watch with people who have not succumbed to the secular concept of, “When you are dead; you are dead “- or to the palliative sentimentality of the simpering weeper. Your being rises to a different state. While you are trying to keep this conscious person out of physical pain, the person of faith in the promises of Christ reaches toward his/her loved ones beyond. Sometimes they call out; sometimes they sing. They do not look back; they lean into a new life of sublime love.
Death watch is a humbling experience. It forces the watcher to face the fact that he/she does not and will never know everything. The watcher recognizes that he/she is dependent on a power that is beyond human comprehension. The watcher knows that he/she is being watched, and that he/she, “Does not know the day or the hour”. Yet, in this new knowledge, the watcher rises to a different plain of self knowledge in which acceptance and peace prevail.
Dear reader, “Be not afraid”. The rewards of death watch are great.