A good question: Are you afraid of dying?
One question, four answers
‘Yes, so I live as well as I can’
The simple, honest and immediate answer to this question is: ‘Yes!’ Despite living in a safer and more secure environment than most other occupants of the globe, I have had, for as long as I can recall, a close-to-the-surface sense of the fragility of life. We are only ever one false step, one miscalculation, one exposure to the wrong bacteria, one moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, away from our ending.
However, facing and stating that reality has not led me into a life of caution and fearfulness – in fact, quite the opposite. If the duration and quality of life comes with no long-term guarantee, then, I reason, it is best that I get on, each day, with living it as fully and as well as I can. Jesus’ parable of the talents encourages me to see that such time and opportunities that I have access to are given as perishable gifts, and, more importantly, gifts for which I am accountable. They are made valid only when they are used productively. I’m not just thinking here about self-evidently ‘good works’, I’m thinking more broadly about loving wholeheartedly, about thinking deeply and creatively, and about delighting … in people, places and events…
Ian Fosten is a retired minister and one of the editors of the United Reformed Church Prayer Handbook
‘No, I know where I’m going’
I’m very happy to share my answer to this question, but am keenly aware that this is a sensitive subject and so I pray that what I’m going to say will not trample on anyone else’s beliefs, hopes and fears.
For me, the short answer is: No, I’m not afraid of dying because I know where I’m going and more importantly, I know who I’m going to. After a merciful judgement, I believe I will be recreated to live with God in the next life. This is the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life demonstrated by Jesus’ own rising from the dead.
However, the matter cannot be settled with a mere one word answer. I am not afraid, but I am nervous about it and perhaps tellingly, I do not want to do it any time soon. I mean, I’m only 58 for goodness sake: my life has only just begun.
I’ve always struggled a bit with that passage in Philippians where Paul seems to be saying that dying will be better than living, because if we die we get to be with Jesus. I do want to be with Jesus. I do want to live where, as Revelation says, there will be no more pain, tears or death, but the thought of being separated from those I love most in this world holds me back. Like anyone else, I know, the ache of grief and I have prayed fervently for my special people to live, even if it’s just for one more day. So I live within that apparent contradiction…
Sue Walker is United Reformed Church Area Minister for North and Mid Staffordshire
J DANA TRENT
‘Death feels like a landmark’
According to Jerry Seinfeld’s famous line, our fear of death is second only to our fear of public speaking. If this is true, Seinfeld quips, we are better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.
My death mentor, the retired Presbyterian minister Stimp Hawkins, once told me that we fear death because of the unknown. No one has returned with a memo, packing list or detailed itinerary. But mystery is not an excuse for avoidance.
‘None of us is getting out of here alive,’ Stimp reminded me. And yet there is something about death that still shocks us. We absentmindedly swipe and like our days away as if there is always more time ahead. We do not want to disappear from family photos or status updates. We want to live forever.
I once heard the writer Kate Bowler say: ‘We’re all terminal – some of us just have more information.’ Bowler was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 35. Though we know (logically) that the death rate is 100%, ‘terminal’ and other words like it incite anxiety…
J Dana Trent is Professor of World Religions and Critical Thinking at Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina and author of Dessert First: Preparing for death while savoring life (Chalice Press, 2019)
‘I am comforted by death, but dying worries me’
Death itself isn’t necessarily a scary proposition for me, but there are some aspects of dying that worry me. Having just turned 21, I have been told multiple times that every birthday following that gets worse. The process of ageing comes with its own perils. Death I have no control over, as an inevitable result of being born is that you die. I don’t know exactly what the situation will be like when I die, or where I go if I go anywhere, or what I might feel.
I remember when I was ten reading that people my age might live to be 130. Now I also know I will be in work for much longer than my parents, but, based on my understanding of Japanese culture, I know living longer doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It is well worth my while putting the work in now to get a job which I might be satisfied with and – all being well – stick with for as long as I have to. This, I believe, is the way to retain any hope of long-term independence, mental wellbeing and possibly even individual purpose. These ideas of ageing are, for me, tied very closely to that of dying. When it comes to death itself, I am more comforted than frightened by it, but dying has more power.
One way of understanding dying is that it is your whole life. From the point you are born, you are in effect dying…
Jake Penny is an Asian studies and Hispanic studies student at the University of Kent
These are extracts from an article that was published in the November 2019 edition of Reform