When Death is a Celebration

My parents

My parents

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!

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in The Afterlife
19 comments on “When Death is a Celebration
  1. jahnosecret says:

    Your post reminded me of the frenzy of medical activity in my mothers hospital room as she was dying. I ordered the nurses and doctors to ‘Stop!’ and the look on their faces was priceless. Once they were banished from the room, it was possible to create a quiet, loving and peaceful environment for her in which to die. The medical staff were just doing what was expected of them – to prolong life – but they were swimming against the tide!

    Beautiful, thought-provoking and healing post Lee. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Thanks! I’m glad to hear that you were able to cut through the pandemonium and create some peaceful final moments for your mother as she departed this earthly life for the next world. Those are precious moments!

  2. jambulee says:

    Hi Lee I can relate. I spent 19 years as a private caregiver in many peoples homes and some institutions. The majority of my clients had no solid spiritual inclinations during their lives and as they aged they became more angry of course the dementia/Alzheimers added to their plight. I was always so relieved when they passed and really had very little to say in condolence and grieving always felt hollow although I could feel their loved ones pain-for which I felt sad-the peace of ended suffering was what I remember most. I know they will be given more opportunities to continue toward God. Hopefully with more compassion than they received in this life.

    Now I’m preparing for my parents leaving this world. They too have no spiritual inclinations and feel the angst of the unknown as well as my brothers and sisters. There is so much comfort in the spiritual insights of Emanuel Swedenborg and am sure glad to have found his writings, from which I have tried to comfort my folks and ease their fears.

    I would like to recommend the “Messages from the Open Door” by Margret Scott Houts and the fiction trilogy starting with “the Searchers” by Naomi Gladish Smith as introductions to ES’s thoughts on the subject.

    Even in Buddhism impermanence is a major realization for the attainment of peace in this life.

    It was a blessing reading this testimonial of your wonderful parents.

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your good thoughts and experiences. My thoughts are with you as your parents complete their time on this earth. They will find out soon enough that there’s more to life than the material world.

      When I briefly served as a hospital chaplain during my seminary training years ago, I wished that I could tell the cancer patients about heaven as Swedenborg describes it. One of the chaplaincy trainers, a Quaker, provided an insight that has been helpful to me ever since. He said, “You may not be able to tell them about Swedenborg’s descriptions of heaven, but you can create some of that heaven for them while they are still here on earth.”

      On a lighter note, toward the end my father’s life he lost most of his memory. That included his memory of Swedenborg’s teachings–to which he had devoted his life as a teacher, minister, and editor. When we described to him his own beliefs about the afterlife, he said, “That sounds pretty good!” 😉

  3. I really like the insights you develop, here, Lee – especially the way you start your essay. You are completely on target when you say the “general attitude” of our society is to view death as “the ultimate catastrophe.” As a physician, I see the illogical scenarios this attitude produces playing out on a regular basis in the families of elderly folks who are dying. And you are completely correct, in my view, when you guide your readers to a larger view of the cycle of birth, life and death as an absolutely integral part of the nature of the physical cosmos.

    In line with this thinking, if you look at what scientists describe as the greater than 13 billion year evolution of our physical universe, you see a process that begins with simplicity and relative uniformity, moving constantly towards ever greater complexity and organization. Likewise, if you look at life on earth as it has evolved over the last 3 to 4 billion years or so, you see life starting as single cells, then becoming multicellular, then finally achieving ever greater freedom of action based on ever greater complexity of form and variety.

    None of this process of evolution and change looks at all like an accident. The ever greater complexity that is both cooperative and self-supportive cannot be a mere accidental process of change driven by random events. This means that some influence completely outside the physical is driving the whole process. Yes, we agree that the physical cycle of birth, life and death is a spiritually motivated process. And it is beautiful.

    To me, these questions and their answers are inescapable if we take both a balanced and wide enough view of the process we find ourselves in the middle of. But then the next question becomes: “Where is all this going?” On this question we may diverge a bit in our points of view. If I am hearing you right, you seem to view our physical lives as a preparation for something completely different – “an eternal life in the spiritual world.”

    What if we are already in this eternal spiritual life while our hearts still beat and our lungs still breathe? What if we have the potential to “freely breathe the spiritual air of understanding and wisdom” right now? What if death is in no way final, just another natural transition? Of course, what I am implying cannot be supported by any objective proof, I am only asking questions. I am not saying that your view is incorrect. I am only exploring the possibility that the next stage of our spiritual evolution is to experience “heaven” right now and not wait until after our death.

    You quite rightfully celebrate the very beautiful lives of your parents. You see the tremendous value of all they achieved. Could part of this achievement be in helping to lay the groundwork for a new stage of our spiritual evolution, one that they could not yet fully and consciously participate in while they were still physically with us? Could we be moving to a whole new view of how it all works and where it is all going?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for your good thoughts, which I very much appreciate.

      Just to scratch the surface of some of your questions:

      I believe that we are simultaneously living in the spiritual world while we are still living physically in the material world. We are mostly unconscious of that fact, as are the angels who surround us spiritually, but it is still true. When we make the transition called death, what’s really happening is that when we lay aside our physical body, our spiritual senses are fully opened, and we become conscious in the spiritual world that our inner spiritual self has been inhabiting all along.

      I do believe that this is a one-way transition in the same way that birth is a one-way transition from the womb to the world outside the womb. Just as we will never return to our mother’s womb, so we will never return to the “womb” of the material universe. Just as the womb is a one-time beginning and preparation for our life in the world, so our life in the material world is a one-time beginning and preparation for life in the spiritual world, which is our true and eternal home.

      Within the next week I’ll post an article about angels and how they live. That article will offer a much more concrete description of the spiritual world, and how it is both similar to and different from our life here on earth. I am now writing a lead-in post that will go up first.

      For now, suffice it to say that this world is less like a schoolroom and more like an apprenticeship for heaven. We learn how to live in heaven by doing the same sorts of things here on earth that we will be doing in heaven. Death is simply the transition from our earthly apprenticeship into the actual practice of the spiritual profession that we have been preparing for here on earth. To use the example of your profession, it is like completing your residency and entering into your medical practice as a licensed physician.

      About humanity entering a new stage of spiritual evolution, I invite you to read my article, “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

      • Hi Lee,

        I find a logical difficulty in accepting what you describe as life being a one-time preparation for a spiritual after-life. My problem is this – where were we prior to being born? Before being born into this physical life, did we exist at all? I have a hard time imagining that each of us was somehow created out of nothing when we were born, but we have now become eternal beings. I have not read enough of your writings to know where you stand on this.

        For the moment, I will assume that you believe, like I do, that there is no such limitation as time to which consciousness is limited. This would mean that each of us has always existed and always will. If you accept this as true, why we would we not enter into many physical lives to further our spiritual growth with the physical cosmos as a tool for this purpose? I suspect we live many, many lives on earth in different times and in different locations. I also suspect we have experiences in other dimensions also, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t.

        Your writings are very interesting and helpful, Lee. Perhaps I will come across your answer in other articles. Is there a particular article I should look to?

        Thanks,

        Chuck

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chuck,

          I’m glad you are finding my writings helpful. I am gaining some great insights from yours as well, so the feeling is mutual.

          At this point I don’t have anything written and published or posted dealing with the questions you raise. Perhaps I will in the future. However, I have found that for those who believe in reincarnation, it tends to become a litmus test in their minds to divide those who are “enlightened” from those who are not. So for the most part, there is nothing to be gained from debating reincarnation with its proponents.

          However, since you asked, I will offer a quick sketch of my views on the subject of where we human beings come from.

          To understand this fully, it is necessary to have some grasp of what Emanuel Swedenborg calls “correspondences.” This is the mechanism by which things on different levels of reality–divine, spiritual, and material–relate to and interact with one another. In simple terms, it is how God is expressed or manifested in the spiritual level of reality, and how spiritual things are expressed or manifested in the material level of reality.

          In line with this view that material things are an image and expression of spiritual things, which, in turn, are an expression of divine things, I see two simultaneous origins of human souls.

          First, all human souls ultimately come from God. This means that they do originate from an eternity that is outside of time. However, in the process of becoming non-divine, they enter into time and its spiritual analog or correspondent. This means that we humans do have a point of beginning in time, though we have no point of ending in the spiritual analog of time.

          The more practical and understandable origin of human souls is, I think, easier to see and grasp. If we look at the physical generation of a human being, it originates in a unique offshoot of genetic material from each parent, which are combined to form a new, unique individual. In precisely the same way on the spiritual level, each new human soul is a unique combination of uniquely different offshoots of the souls of the two parents.

          This means that practically speaking, the point of origin in time of a human soul coincides with the point of origin of that human being’s body. However, seen from a spiritual perspective, the newly created soul is prior, and it forms the newly developing human body using blueprints provided by both parents, and materials provided primarily by the mother, since a new human body develops inside the mother’s body and is entirely dependent on her for the materials and sustenance needed for growth.

          In short, each human soul is a uniquely new creation of God made in time through the agency of unique offshoots from the spiritual and material forms of that human being’s parents. So we humans do have a beginning in time, but we are created such that our spirits have no ending point in time. The physical body, which does have an ending point in time, is only a temporary vessel formed to contain the human spirit (which is the real human being) while that spirit goes through its initial developmental phase in this material world.

          As for the belief in reincarnation, I believe it arises from reading Eastern scriptures literally and materialistically rather than spiritually. The rebirths spoken of in both Eastern and Western scriptures are not physical rebirths, but spiritual rebirths.

          Other than that, the only “reincarnation” that exists is a continual re-incarnation of the infinite attributes of God into billions of unique and always newly created human souls and bodies. This is part of God’s infinite creativity in continually bringing new things into the world and into human society.

        • Lee says:

          A further thought in response to the questions you raise:

          People on earth have no need to return to their mother’s womb. Once the development that takes place in the womb has been completed, there is no need to repeat it. We then continue to develop outside the womb through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood into old age. Returning to the womb would merely be repeating developmental stages that we have already completed.

          In the very same way, once we have left the “womb” of the material world in the process we on earth call “death,” we have no need to return here again. We have already completed the developmental phases for which this material plane exists.

          Just as our physical, mental, and spiritual development does not stop at birth, so it does not stop at death. We continue to grow and develop spiritually as human beings when we take up residence in the spiritual world.

          In the spiritual world, we have access to higher and more efficient tools and modes of development than we have access to here on earth. We need our developmental phase here on earth to be able to access and use those spiritual modes of development.

          Returning to earth would deprive us of the tools and facilities needed to continue our spiritual evolution, and force us to repeat phases of development that we have already completed.

          God’s design for creation is very efficient. There is no need to repeat earlier phases of development. Each phase builds the foundation for the next.

          Our time in our mother’s womb provides the foundation for our development as human beings on this earth, and we have no need of ever repeating that phase of development.

          Our time of development as human beings on this earth provides the foundation for our further development as spiritual beings in the spiritual world, and we also have no need of ever repeating that phase of development.

          Physical death is not the end of our spiritual growth. It is the point at which our spiritual development kicks into high gear! To use another metaphor, once we no longer need training wheels, why would we ever reinstall them on our bicycle? They would only slow us down.

          The critical idea to understand is that we continue to grow and develop as human beings to eternity. Our life here on earth is just the first phase of a process of spiritual growth and development that continues forever in the spiritual world.

      • laurisolups says:

        Lee,

        a couple of questions.

        What about infants/babies/young children who die without “completing their development”?

        I read it once that the fundamental question of philosophy is: Why not to commit suicide? I think it’s a very succinct and precise way of putting it. What would be your response?

        • Lee says:

          Hi laurisolups,

          Good question. For the general answer about children who die, please see: Where are my Children who have Died? Will I Ever See Them Again?

          The short answer is that they all grow up and become angels in heaven. None of them go to hell. That’s because they did not reach adult age on earth, which is when we first begin to make moral and spiritual decisions for ourselves in sufficient freedom from our parents’ influence and responsibility over us that the decisions are really ours.

          Then why wouldn’t it be better for them to die as children, through accident, murder, or suicide?

          Because although all children who die do become angels, they become angels who lack the full development as human and spiritual beings that they would have had if they had lived a full lifetime on earth. It is here on earth that we develop the character that we carry with us to eternity. Children who die have had that character development stopped before full maturity. So although they do have a very happy life in heaven, they have that life without reaching the full human potential they could have achieved if they had lived out their lives on earth.

          Yes, of course there is the risk of choosing hell over heaven for all who live into their adult years. But that risk also carries with it the potential reward of becoming a much more fully developed human being and angel, capable of doing types of work in the spiritual world that those who die as children cannot do, because they do not have the depth of character that is developed in those who have faced evil, fought it, and overcome it.

  4. Lee: You have some fascinating replies to your blog. I had much the same feelings as you had when my father and mother made their journey to the spiritual world (within three months of each other). – Naomi Smith

  5. Y. Prior says:

    Hi – found this post through the culture monk post – and Lee, I really like this post!! wonderful.
    “They spent their life teaching and sharing their deep and abiding faith through their words and their actions” – 🙂

    and one day your parents will be on your welcome team when – as you put it – you leave this “womb” of a life to join them for your “eternal life in the spiritual world”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Y. Prior,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing my parents again when it comes my time to “shuffle off this mortal coil.” But I’m in no big hurry. I still have lots to do right here on earth!

  6. Hi Lee,

    I got a chuckle out of this post because my grandfather’s last words to me before he passed away were, “David, don’t get old.” 🙂

    I get frustrated with some of my skeptical friends who believe that this life is in — you die and you go in a whole. Sometimes it’s almost like they WANT this to be true just I want their to be eternal life. Perhaps they just don’t like what religion would mean for their lives.

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi deepthinkingdave,

      Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the piece!

      I think “Don’t get old” is common wisdom arrived at by those who do get old, and feebler in body than they are in mind.

      Some people don’t like what religion would mean for their lives. Some people just want to have their fun and not have to do anything they don’t want to do—especially straightening up their own lives.

      Others don’t like what the religion they have encountered tells them about life and the afterlife. Unfortunately, false religion, and false Christianity has driven hundreds of thousands of good and decent people into agnosticism and atheism.

  7. Rolan says:

    What do you think of Theosophy? They know about Swedenborg and say that his visions never left the astral plane. They believe in reincarnation and their heaven is temporary lasting as long as the amount of good karma you’ve created. Then you reincarnate and repeat the process until you are “enlightened” like the Buddha, ending the cycle of reincarnation.

    They say that suicide will prevent you from going to heaven until your natural lifetime ends, and ALL bad things that happen to you are a result of bad karma from a previous life.

    I ask you because like Swedenborg, they are an old “newage cult” (no offense) based on a religion (Buddhism/Hinduism instead of Christianity) that the “near-death experience” supports.

    Do you think they are plausible? Is there anyway to prove that they are wrong?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rolan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      I am no expert on Theosophy. However, the Theosophists are not the only ones who claim that Swedenborg’s visions were limited to a lower plane of the spiritual realms. There are even spirit mediums who have claimed to have received messages from Swedenborg in the spiritual world, and that he has now recanted everything he said in his theological writings about this or that.

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s all hogwash.

      Did these detractors of Swedenborg spend nearly three decades fully conscious in the spiritual world, visiting angels, spirits, and devils in their communities and houses, carrying on conversations with them face to face, and becoming fully acquainted with the spiritual world? I’m not aware that any of them even claim to have had the length and depth of experience in the spiritual world that Swedenborg did. And yet, they presume to make pronouncements about his errors and misperceptions?

      It’s all rather ridiculous. For example, it’s silly to think that after having already spent nearly thirty years exploring the spiritual world before he died, Swedenborg would suddenly, after he died, come to the conclusion that everything he had previously seen and experienced in the spiritual world was wrong.

      In short, these claims about Swedenborg make no sense, and they are not made by credible witnesses when compared to Swedenborg’s extensive experience in the spiritual world.

      It would take too long in a comment to discuss all of these issues fully, let alone “prove that they are wrong.” However, here are two articles that lay out the issues sufficiently that you can come to your own conclusions:

      1. What about Spiritualism? Is it a Good Idea to Contact Spirits?
      2. Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

      In the second article, see especially the sections starting with, “2. Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world was unique in known history.”

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