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Why We Don’t Have to Fear Death

My heart weighed like a lead boulder in my body as I drove away from my doctor’s appointment — more questions, fewer answers; more frustration, less relief. It seemed in that moment that this is the consistency of life, that we do not understand it the more we seek to and that death is always nearer to us than we’d like to imagine.

There is a mystery in the marriage of life and death. Just as I thought about the sorrows and uncertainties we all face that are usually experienced alongside the joys and consolations, I looked up at the midday sky. The clouds behind me spoke of an impending storm as thunder distantly rumbled; they were angry and gray and foreboding. 

Ahead of me, they seemed to soar with effervescent joy. Interestingly, the storm clouds and the cumulus clouds came together in a tidy row. They were not set apart from one another. It was as if the sky signal meant to say, “We exist together. We operate together — the dark and the light, the heaviness and the elation.”

What if we approached our deaths in this way – not out of fear, but with a sage impression that death and life are always around us and inside of us all the time? I revisited an old favorite by Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? The first words my eyes caught were these:

There was a time when I said: ‘Next year I will finally have it together,’ or ‘When I grow more mature these moments of inner darkness will go,’ or ‘Age will diminish my emotional needs.’ But now I know that my sorrows are mine and will not leave me. In fact, I know they are very old and very deep sorrows and that no amount of positive thinking or optimism will make them less (p. 37).

The old adage tells us that we gain wisdom with age. Aging and maturity is viewed as the golden time of life, in which we finally gain stability and participate in the things we always wanted but never found the time to do. The reality is that, along with the gift of wisdom and insight, our sorrows also increase.

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