Recently we have experienced passages of scripture together that are a bit uncomfortable to explore. Last Sunday, we heard the story from Luke’s gospel about the rich man who found himself in Hades, unable to repent of his bad behavior. In our Christian education class, we heard a story from the Prophet Hosea, featuring some uncomfortable and seemingly “not-safe-for-work” content. There are lessons to be learned in the scriptures and one of those lessons is that sometimes our lives bring us times that are simply not terribly comfortable.

               I had a doctor appointment recently. And although I am in reasonably good health, I notice I am aging. I notice things I once did with relative ease are no longer quite as easy as they were before. I notice that although my diet has not changed drastically, my bloodwork results reflect those of a man in his 40s, rather than a man in his 20s. I need to walk more and more miles per day to get the same fitness results I once obtained with a lower-intensity workout. My once lush head of dark blond hair is becoming more and more gray by the day. While my health remains quite good for a man my age, I nonetheless have aged. My annual visit to the doctor was a time of discomfort for me not because of illness, but simply because it is a reminder that I am aging. It served as a reminder that each of us, including me, is just a short-term visitor on this planet. One day, our visit here will come to an end. While I felt invincible some 20 years ago, I now look at life as something much more precious. I try to enjoy every minute of it, especially because I now have a frame of reference for how short 20 years actually is!

               During the first five years of my life as an ordained person, I spent a lot of time walking people though their final months, weeks, days, and hours on this planet. Sometimes I become teary-eyed when I remember someone who had an impact on my life through their death. I remember a cancer patient, LeeAnn, who knew of my dream of earning a degree from Notre Dame. Shortly before she died, she gifted me her Notre Dame mug that she used to drink from as a young girl while watching Fighting Irish football games. She told me she wanted me to have it as a reminder to never give up on my dream. To this day, the mug sits on my desk in my office. I remember Gary, who had a respiratory illness. Gary was a large, jolly, funny guy. When I met him, he invited me into his hospital room so that I could engage in a playful theological debate with a Latter-day Saint bishop to convince him which path he should follow. Our friendly “debate” ended with both of us praying over Gary, laying hands upon him for healing. After a number of visits with Gary, he asked for me to come to his room before he died. When I grasped his hand to tell him I was there with him, he removed his oxygen mask and said, “What does a guy have to do to get a decent cheeseburger around here?” Moments later, surrounded by his friends and family (and me, his new priest), Gary breathed his last breath. I remember Lori, a young mother with breast cancer. We talked of how unfair it was that her high-school aged children would lose their mother. We talked of how she would not be able to attend her daughter’s wedding, or see her grandchildren’s birth. Lori, who was not religious and said she did not know if she believed in God, asked me to offer her the sacrament of the sick. After she died, her family acknowledged the impact our conversations had had on her life. Her children invited me to attend their high school graduations.

               I don’t share these stories with you to frighten you or to make you sad. I share them with you because it is my responsibility as your spiritual leader to remind you that death is a part of life. As a part of life, death can (and should!) be holy. Our Christian study this year is a look through the Book of Common Prayer. If we look at page 445, we see that I am responsible for reminding you to make sure you are prepared for death when the time comes. As uncomfortable as it might be to talk about death, planning ahead for it can be a true kindness for those we inevitably will leave behind.

               Have you thought about your mortality? Have you had conversations with your loved ones about what your wishes are? What decisions would you like someone to make on your behalf if you find yourself in a position where you are unable to speak for yourself? Do you want life-saving measures or would you prefer to have a DNR order in place? Have you thought about whether you’d prefer to be buried or cremated when you die? Where would you like to be interred? How would you like your finances and other temporal belongings distributed? Do those in your life know about these wishes? If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, and your grieving time was interrupted because their personal affairs were not in order, then you understand the value of ensuring your wishes are clearly known by your heirs.

               I will never forget LeeAnn, or Gary, or Lori, or the countless other people I have escorted to the next life (LeeAnn and Lori are featured in the photo accompanying this article). I think of them often and I pray for their families. I also think about my own mortality. Someday I will join them. Someday we all will join them. It isn’t exactly comfortable to think about that day. But when it comes, we can be thankful for our opportunity to visit this earthly home and to share it with each other. And if we are well-prepared, then our deaths can and will be truly holy.

That We May End Our Lives in Faith and Hope