Tuesday, January 22, 2008

by any other name

This is a post on death - just for a novel change in Allie's preoccupation (not).

Basically I am just intending here to quote a few things I've read recently. The first was in chapter one of Philip Yancey's book Finding God in Unexpected Places.

One night Donna, a member of the Make Today Count group [for terminally ill patients], told about watching a television program on the public service station. In the program, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discussed a boy in Switzerland who was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Kübler-Ross asked him to draw a picture of how he felt.
He drew a large, ugly military tank, and behind the tank he drew a small house
with trees, grass, sunshine, and an open window. In front of the tank, just at
the end of the gun barrel, he drew a tiny figure with a red stop sign in his
hand. Himself.

Donna said that picture captured her feelings precisely. Kübler-Ross had
gone on to describe the five stages of grief, culminating in the stage of
acceptance. And Donna knew she was supposed to work toward acceptance. But she
could never get past the stage of fear. Like the little boy in front of the
tank, she saw death as an enemy.

Someone brought up religious faith and belief in an afterlife, but the
comment evoked the same response in Make Today Count as it had in Amnesty
International: a long silence, a cleared throat, a few rolled eyes. The rest of
the evening, the group focused on how Donna could overcome her fears and grow
toward the acceptance stage of grief.

I left that meeting with a heavy heart. Our materialistic, undogmatic
culture was asking its members to defy their deepest feelings. Donna and the
small Swiss boy with the brain tumor had, by sheer primal instinct, struck upon
a cornerstone of Christian theology. Death is an enemy, a grievous enemy, the
last enemy to be destroyed. How could members of a group that each month saw
families fall apart and bodies deteriorate before their eyes still wish for a
spirit of bland acceptance? I could think of only one appropriate response to
Donna’s impending death: Curse you, death!

This excerpt was (a) somewhat of a relief and (b) a breath of fresh air - for me. Hooray - at last someone is acknowledging that death is horrible and dark and ugly and those are not strong enough words. Death is not something that is designed to be "gotten over" or placated. It'll hit you hard between the eyes when you least expect it, whether it's your own or someone else's.

This is where the next piece of writing comes in - a poem by Adrian Plass in his novel An Alien at St Wilfred's, which I've also copied out on another blog of mine, Another Grief Observed.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
The monster is hidden away.
It's not in the zoo for the public to view
The look on its face would empty the place
We don't want to die, the people would cry
Death is the curse in the back of the hearse
We don't need to see it today.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
We shovel it under the ground
Under the sod and hope there's a God
Whose principles bend at the bitterest end
Or we burn it away, and whispering say
Death is the scream at the end of the dream
There isn't a lonelier sound.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
We don't even give it a name
He's gone before to a distant shore
She's passed away, we gloomily say,
He's fallen asleep in a terminal heap.
Death is the spear that is poisoned with fear
It pierces the heart of the game.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
But once in the angry sun
A winner was slain at the centre of pain
When a battle was fought at the final resort
But because of the cross it was fought without loss
And death is the knife that will free us for life
Because of what Jesus has done.

And I think everything I want to say is in that poem.


LEstes65 said...

Hmmmmm. I have to digest this one a bit.

Trish Ryan said...

That's some heavy stuff. It's tough to work through feelings/thoughts on death sometimes, if only because not everyone wants to go there conversationally when you need to. I was recently reading a bunch of books by widows that stopped me in my tracks, but it was pretty lonely figuring out the emotions it stirred up. As hokey as it might sound, I was really grateful to have God there, sorting me out and reminding me that I'm alive. I can forget that sometimes...