Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death - Roger Fenton
(Source)
At times I think too much and death has been on my mind rather a lot as of late.

As one ages I suppose that's only natural, mind you I don't really fear my own death. We all die eventually. I fear the death of those around me, those I know and love.

Now my religion teaches that, if we've been "good" (and that's in quotes as I'm never really sure who gets to define what that means) that we go to a better place. Oddly enough, from what I hear in the hymns we sing in church, it sounds like a rather boring kind of place.

Streets of gold? Mansions? No sea?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. - Revelation 21:1
That has been interpreted in a number of ways by people no doubt smarter than I, but still one gets the impression that Heaven will look absolutely nothing like Earth. Which when I think about it makes no sense. For that matter, there is much in religion that makes no sense. But theology aside, existence after death would be different.

No pain, no sorrow...
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. - Revelation 21:4
Now some argue that without sadness, how do we know what happiness is? Simple, at least to me anyway, if we have experienced sadness in this life (and who has not?) then we should certainly notice its absence in the next.

You might be wondering why I am thinking about this today. The short explanation is that on the way to work on Tuesday, I saw three cars parked alongside the road I sometimes take to go to work. It passes through a forested area, in New England (and many other places besides) where there is forest, there are deer.

One car had a few younger folks around it, they seemed distressed. About college-age, no doubt students at the local university. One girl stepped obliviously from her vehicle directly into the roadway. Fortunately the traffic headed towards her, which included myself, though further back in the line, had slowed. For seeing vehicles stopped along a roadway, and people looking somewhat distressed, is an unusual occurrence. She was no doubt rather shaken by what had occurred just before my arrival.

I, having seen this sort of thing far too often in the past, looked to the ditch beside the road. There, absolutely still, lay a dead deer. From the look of things she had not suffered, the end appeared to have been quick. For which I was thankful, I've seen times where it wasn't quick.

Now some of you may be thinking, "Okay, Sarge, you saw a dead deer beside the road on the way to work. Big deal, I see that all the time where I live." (And no doubt from juvat's stories here on the blog, he's been in more than one 1 v 1 between a vehicle and a deer.) But there, in the ditch was this beautiful animal who had been alive not 30 minutes before. Now her spirit was no more, she didn't exist in this world.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, I've always leaned that way, but lately death has intruded on my peaceful existence more than I care for.

Shortly after composing yesterday's tribute to Captain Mariner (which you have to admit is a superb name for a sailor, though she was an aviator) I received an email that informed me of the death of a long time member of my church.

Sure, he was in his 90s, a veteran, he arrived in England with his anti-aircraft battery just about the time Hitler was assuming room temperature. His unit didn't make it into the war, they stayed in Europe, didn't transfer to the Pacific. (Where Japanese aircraft were dwindling to nothing on land but still a huge threat at sea, where Army anti-aircraft batteries weren't of much use.)

His name was Bud, I'd known him for nearly 20 years, he'd been ailing lately, living in the local veterans home but we hadn't heard of any life threatening illnesses. Though he had had a scare last year. He was a great guy. Another person I knew who is now, at least in my observation, no more. He joins my buddy Fred, my Dad, Lex, and all my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and many others. I miss them.

What lies beyond this existence? I don't know for sure. That's not the crux of what's been on my mind. It's not my death that concerns me (I may have mentioned that already), after all, 18 years ago I was misdiagnosed* with something that was damned near guaranteed to kill me in 7 years. Which would have been 11 years ago by my reckoning.

I talked about that then with my buddy Fred, who was also my pastor.

"You seem pretty calm about it." Fred remarked.

"Well, the way I look at it, it's better than being hit by a bus. I've got time to, ya know, think about it, get my affairs in order. To get used to the idea." That's how I put it at the time. (Was I overjoyed when another doctor pointed out the first doctor's error? Why yes, yes I was.)

So what's bothering me? In short, I don't want to lose any more friends, relatives, loved ones, cats, dogs, heck, even the random deer crossing the road at an inopportune time. Those who have "moved on," I miss terribly. Are they in a better place? Perhaps. But the bottom line is that they are not here, where I can see them, where I can talk to them. They have gone to a place I cannot go. At least not yet.

Is there "life" after death? I prefer to think of it as a further existence, not life but something like life. For life ends in death, at least I think it does. Life involves sorrow, hardship, pain, and loss. So it isn't like life at all, at least I hope not. I hope it involves the good bits of life - seeing old friends, family members, much loved dogs and cats, and the like.

I rather hope there will be blue skies, sunshine and night- the Lord created both, why not in the afterlife as well? There should be mountains, plains, hills, lakes and rivers, grass and trees, all those things we love in this world.

I also hope that there will be seas as well. Music, good books, and all the time we need to listen and read. Coffee, I hope there is good coffee. Beer and wine, both God's gifts to us. (At least I think so. Yes, yes, in moderation, I'm sure the Good Lord hasn't much time for drunks in the afterlife, He spends a lot of time in this world trying to protect them from themselves. One might say that I've "been there, done that." But I'm betting a mild buzz is still attainable, at least not frowned upon.)

I don't know. But I do know this, I don't want to lose any more friends or family. But hey, it's going to happen whether I want it or not. I'm here until the end, whenever and wherever that may be, and so far I'm enjoying, for the most part, the journey itself.

Ah well, the things I think...

When I get too down, I like listening to this song. Written to a friend who was at death's door for a time. To me, the song writer is hopeful that his friend will recover, but he's prepared for the worst. I have been "On the Mend" myself for a long time, for many reasons...



On the Mend
by Chris Shiflett, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel & Dave Grohl

One more day that I've survived
Another night alone
Pay no mind I'm doing fine
I'm breathing on my own

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Wake me when the hour arrives
Wake me with my name
See you somewhere down the line
We're tethered once again

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you
Sat alone
Here we go

Close your eyes and stay a while
To take me where you go
Single file we walk the mile
Who's wandering back home

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you
Sat alone
Here we go
Here we go
Here we go
Here we go


Yup, for those who have gone on before, "See you somewhere down the line..."

I pray.




* I was diagnosed in 2001 with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, which actually turned out to be lymphomatoid papulosis, which is a rare skin disorder that is characterised by crops of self healing skin lesions that look cancerous under the microscope but are actually benign (non-malignant). Lesions contain unusual cells that are similar to those found in some lymphomas (cancers of the lymphatic system). [Source] Which has been in remission for a long time now. Which makes me very, very happy.

50 comments:

  1. Seeing more and more family members pass as well as friends as the years go by, the word mortality takes on a new meaning, a more personal one. You're not the only one thinking things Sarge....... Oh .... an hour before sunrise and it's minus 27F, not even going to mention wind chill since the weather guessers are acting like chicken little.

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    Replies
    1. Man, that's chilly!

      (Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks these things.)

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  2. When we stop thinking in our worldly terms death makes more sense. Perhaps there is something better than blue skies and the ocean.

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  3. I am in the same boat with you, even if I'm a few years behind. It's this season of life.

    Job talks about standing and seeing his redeemer after the "skin worms" do their thing.... David expresses his knowledge he will go to see Solomon's older brother at some point. And further, if God gave Adam a job, I figure He will have work for us, too. It won't be boring... Harps and wings.... My 2 cents worth from 30 plus years of reading, studying and reflection on His Word... It's a comfort in times like these, no doubt.

    Be encouraged! He isn't finished with you yet! You are still here, making a difference, at the very least, to me... Thank you for that.

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  4. The good news for those who believe is that it doesn't come down to whether or not we're good enough in the end. It's whether or not we placed our faith in the one who WAS good enough.

    Like the thief on the cross who had no time left to do anything good in his life. All that was left for him was to cry "remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus replied, "Today you'll be with me in Paradise"

    Well you went and did it, now you got me humming that ild hymn. ;)

    "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able. To keep that which I've committed unto him until that day."

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    1. My wish is that every pastor paid attention to that first sentence, many do not.

      Good words be603, there are days when my faith could use a boost. You did just that.

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  5. I suspect the "book" saint peter has at the pearly gates is written in black and white. I don't think there is any grey area in it. as to who or what gets to define "good or bad" I don't have a clue. I do understand that as humans then, the heavens must surely be sparsely populated.

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    Replies
    1. If there is indeed a book.

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
      - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

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  6. I think we all have similar thoughts. When I get tp ponderin’, I try and remind myself that as smart as I think I am, the Lord is infinitely smarter, so I’ve got no chance of figuring it out until it’s time.
    As for good? I think that definition is rfght here. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind and your whole soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The better we do at that, the “gooder” we are.

    My $.02


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    1. Oh, and for some reason “Getting to the End of the line” by the Traveling Wilbury’s has been stuck in my head for the last week or so. Hope that’s not ominous.

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    2. Your $.02 is, as is usual, worth a lot more than that.

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    3. John 14:26 speaks to that, Juvat. He will bring to remembrance what was spoken, and make the application to you. Just like the goodness is from God (be603 +1) so is the knowledge and understanding. His way is higher, so we need all the help He can give. Just ask for enlightenment. I usually get just enough light for a step at a time.... I think it's designed that way to keep me close to the Illuminator. Otherwise, I'd race off and get in over my head.....

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    4. Which is kinda where I'm at today, over my head.

      Might be because of the recurring vision problems I've been having. All is somewhat blurry today, in mind and in body.

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  7. Ok, so last week really sucked because on Friday I had to put down my kitty cat. Yes, 17 years 3 months is a long time for a cat, but when it comes down to quality of life vs quantity of life, quality wins every time. Keeping him going for me just seemed selfish.

    In my profession, I have seen lots of folks die. Some go happy to be ending the pain and suffering, and are full of hope for what comes next. Some go kicking and screaming all the way...well, figuratively speaking, pain meds are a true blessing IMHO. I don't have a clue what is "on the other side", but I sure hope it includes some mountains, as well as the ocean, not just a bunch of "mansions". So far as being "good", I agree, I have often wondered who makes that decision...if, as I think, it is God, then I figure we are all good to go.

    Am I sad about my guy...yes, yes I am...but I am not sorry for it was the kind and humane thing to do. Hubbie dug a spot on the edge of the garden for him, so we can continue to weed together come spring. Tractors are a wonderful piece of equipment to have when there is a foot of frozen ground out there.

    Am I hopeful that I will see him, and my other kitty, and dogs, yes, yes, I am.

    Some days all we have is hope.

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    1. Wow, yes, that must have been bad. My cats are 15 and I worry a lot about them, I need to enjoy their company while I can and not worry about tomorrow. But it's tough as I'm sure you know.

      Hope works for me.

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    2. Hug your feline staff lots, and throw in a couple of kitty treats. Ya never know when, or how long you have. He was fine, then slowed down on the eating, then just curled up on the couch, would drink water, and pee, but couldn't get himself to the water dish or to the kitty box without help. Kidneys just shut down. But it happened relatively quickly, prior to that he had been his usual rambunctious self.
      So love them lots while you can.

      Darn dusty around here...

      Are your eyes acting up due to lots of overuse and stress?? I worry about you!!

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    3. I pay a lot of attention to the feline staff, they expect it for one thing, and for another I know from bitter experience how they can be fine one day and gone the next.

      The left eye, which has always been dominant and is now healing, occasionally tries to "take over." If I close that eye, the right one is fine. Also the left eye is developing a cataract, which the doc says is "normal" after a vitrectomy and patching up the retina. Eminently fixable he says. I don't doubt him but it is a bit stressful at times.

      I also don't get enough sleep, which I try to remedy on the weekends, unfortunately the weekends since my vacation have been semi-busy so I'm operating under a sleep deficit at the moment. But I know that this too shall pass.

      I'm okay, really.

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    4. As with you, so do I. 2 Maine Coons Leviathons, one named Hobbes, just because and they are wonderful. My eyes are going to hell and have been for awhile. I might have to break down and see a doctor..I remember reading Wilbur Smith's books long ago and a phrase I liked out of them was, "stay with God". The rejoinder was "Go with God". Stick around SGT, we enjoy your writing.

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    5. I shall endeavor to do just that. Stay with God, Cap'n.

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  8. When I go, I don't want to leave a mess behind for my sons to clean up. That is in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to move my worldly belongings tomorrow. What is my greatest hope is the Lord, should it be, doesn't require me to bury one of my children or grandchildren.

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  9. 1 Corinthans 2:9 Eye has not seen, nor ear
    heard,
    Nor have entered into the
    heart of man
    The things which God has
    Prepared for those who love
    Him.


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  10. With your post today and the comments, I'm reduced to that '60s phrase: ' Oh wow, heavy man '.

    Not being of the faith that you and, it seems, your commenters share, I shall just wait to find out what happens when my time comes.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Which in reality is all we can do.

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    2. I forget which famous person said it, but on his death bed he said "Now comes the greatest adventure of all"

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    3. I don't know either, my Google Fu is weak tonight.

      It sounds familiar. Readers? Bueller?

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  11. I had a neighbor who, at the age of 83, had a heart attack and the EMTs were able to save her. It was so unusual that they talked about it to others - but she had a near death experience. Said after that experience she wasn't afraid of dying, which she did a year or so later.

    I have come to think of death as something that can frequently come unexpected. Years ago, I had someone close to me who was murdered one evening. She got out of bed that morning, got dressed, and went to work having no idea that this day was to be her last.


    Someone once said something years ago that stayed with me: That we think we are physical beings with a spirit inside, but we are really spiritual beings with a physical shell.

    Or what we think is "physical" (my addition).

    We are at the age, Sarge, where we will be acquainted with death - if not our own soon, those around us. Just a reminder for me, Capt Mariner was 3 years younger than me.

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    1. Well said. It's coming whether we want it or not, whether we're ready or not.

      To everything there is a season...

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  12. You need to go to home and hug your wife. Get some sun or something. You're turning into a real gloomy Gus.

    So, did two rednecks pop out of the woods and start cleaning the deer? Seems to be a waste not to... And, yes, I have seen that exact thing happen.

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    1. Yeah I know. I'm having one of "those weeks."

      I promise, I'll be better tomorrow...

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  13. It's been on my mind a lot as well, part of getting old i guess. I only hope if there is something beyond it is at least as good as life has been to me.

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    1. Yes, I think it is part of getting old (no one tells you how scary that can be) and yup, that's my hope as well.

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  14. I try to think of the place called ‘Nirvana’ as being of ‘the now’. I’m not sure that there are perfect roads and challenging bends where I’ll be riding great motorcycles with good friends who know how to do it right, at some place over the rainbow, but it would be nice!

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    1. It has to be something that's kind of "tailor made" for each individual. That's the only thing that makes sense to me.

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    2. As one studies the whole Bible, in context, with a reliable hermeneutic, only one answer becomes clear, not allowing for misunderstanding. Heaven will be populated by those who have believed the Spirit's influence. It is a place of infinite pleasure derived from worshipping God who will have provided all of one's heart desires. We can't understand nor comprehend the joy of such an existence. Similarly, we can't fully comprehend the God of the Bible, nor can we put Him in a box. All we can trust is that He will do exactly what is right according to His righteousness. "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Genesis 18:25. As they say, my $0.02

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    3. Pretty good $0.02 right there. Thanks Dave.

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  15. A great post brings commenters out of the woodwork.

    Paul

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)