Both of my parents died in the past year, and I couldn’t be happier!
Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents very much. No, they weren’t perfect. Who is? But I could not have asked for better parents. I consider myself blessed in that way.
As much as I love them, I am also very happy that they died.
You see, my parents lived a full lifespan. They died at the ripe old age of 90 (my father) and 85 (my mother). They died within nine months of each other, having been happily married for over sixty years. Together they devoted their lives to the things they loved and believed in, the greatest of which was their shared religious faith, and not the least of which was raising eight children.
At my father’s funeral I was smiling and laughing and greeting family and old friends. Then I realized, there are people grieving here. So I toned it down for their sake.
But for me, despite all I’ve learned about the process of grieving, I still can’t figure out what to be sad about. Months later, it still hasn’t “hit me.” Though there are always many different emotions when someone we love dies, what I feel the most about my parents’ deaths is a sense of happiness and even joy. They had a good life. I had plenty of time to bid them farewell from this earthly plane as their physical bodies gradually wore out in their final years.
By the time my parents died, they were very much looking forward to death. They were tired of struggling with failing bodies and deteriorating minds. Toward the end of his life my father had sage advice for anyone who would listen: “Don’t get old.” Both my father and my mother were eager to move on.
For my parents, death was a joyful thing—an event to be celebrated!
Rational and irrational fear of death
That’s just the opposite of how death is generally viewed in our society.
The general attitude seems to be that death is the ultimate catastrophe. Death is something to be avoided at all costs, and denied as long as possible. That’s why about a quarter of Medicare spending in the United States goes for people who are in the last year of their lives. For some people, spending on the last week or two of life reaches astronomical levels as doctors use heroic measures in their desperate attempts to cheat death.
Of course, there is a rational basis for our fear of death. We humans are meant to live out our full lifespan. There is a real and justified grief over those whose lives are cut short in childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. Fear of death helps us to achieve a full lifespan by motivating us to provide for our own health and welfare, and by restraining us from doing a whole lot of foolish, reckless things that could result in an early death. The will to live is one of the strongest motivators among both animals and humans.
However, there comes a time when the fear of death becomes irrational. There comes a time when both animals and humans are meant to die. For elderly people who have lived out their years and whose bodies and minds are failing, does it really make sense to fear death and attempt to stave it off as long as possible, whatever the costs?
Death is a natural part of life
Even from a purely physical and biological perspective, death is a natural part of life.
Everything from plants and animals to stars and solar systems has a natural lifespan. Things are born, live out their lives, and die to make way for the next generation. This cycle of life, death, and rebirth makes it possible for nature to be continually renewed, and to change and evolve toward higher forms of organization and life.
From a social perspective, the cycle of life, death, and the birth of the next generation provides for the renewal and development of human society. As one generation becomes set in its ways, it gradually dies off, making space for its children to take the next steps in carrying human culture toward greater understanding and better ways of living.
True, not all change is for the better. But when humankind goes backwards for a shorter or longer period of time, each new generation provides a new opportunity to reverse the downward slide and start humanity on an upward course again.
Without the full cycle of birth, life, and death, neither the natural ecosystem nor human society as we know it could exist. Without death, nature would quickly become choked with overpopulation. Without death, human society would slide into oppressive stagnation.
Death is a spiritual part of life
From a spiritual perspective, death is no less essential to life.
Seen from a spiritual perspective, this entire material universe is like a womb for the spiritual world. Here on earth we are not only physically conceived and born, but we also have the opportunity to be spiritually conceived and reborn.
We humans are not born merely to live a few short decades on this earth. Rather, our lifetime on this earth is preparation for eternal life in the spiritual world.
Our mother’s womb provided an environment in which we could be conceived and pass through the developmental stages of becoming an embryo, then a fetus, until we were ready to be born into the world, breathe the air for ourselves, and continue our process of maturation into full adulthood.
In the same way, the material world provides an environment in which we can grow not only into physically mature adults, but into spiritually mature human beings, ready to take our place in our heavenly home. This is the process that Jesus calls being “born again.”
From a spiritual perspective, our physical death is not death at all. Rather, it is our birth from this world into the next.
When we leave behind the womb of the material world, we are born into the full, spiritual humanity for which we were originally created. We can then freely breathe the spiritual air of understanding and wisdom, feel the warm spiritual sunshine of God’s love shining upon us, and join a community of like-minded people, now angels, in a joyful life of mutual love, learning, and service that continues to grow and develop to eternity.
The joy of death
Yes, I am happy that my parents have died. I know that they are now moving on to their true home. They no longer have to struggle with failing physical bodies. Their minds are now free from the limitations of this material world. They are regaining their youthful health and vigor in their eternal, spiritual bodies.
For me, the thought of my parents’ life and death is a joyful thing. While they were here on this earth, they followed their loves, and lived out their faith. They spent their lives on this earth loving each other and their family, and giving of their fine minds and their great talents to everyone they met.
Yes, they gave life to me and my brothers and sisters, and indirectly to a growing number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But more than that, they gave spiritual life to their children and to thousands of others. They spent their life teaching and sharing their deep and abiding faith through their words and their actions.
My parents are now entering into the full joy of the spiritual world toward which they guided so many others while they were living here on earth.
For my parents, and for all who have devoted their lives to love, understanding, service, and spiritual growth, death is the final and greatest blessing of earthly life. It is when all of our labors finally come to fruition in the eternal life and joy of heaven.
And that is an event to celebrate!