There is a question that haunts me: How do I die well? This summer, while I visited Catholic patients at the hospital, I found the beginnings of an answer. There, I saw a man die well.
A few days before his death, this man said to his wife, with full command of his faculties, “I am ready to die!” This man knew that the only reason why his heart kept pumping was the machine next to him. The difference between life and death lay with that machine. When the machine stopped, his heart would stop. In such circumstances, a man truly faces his mortality. This man was face-to-face with his fragility, but did not cry out with shouts of injustice. No, he simply stated, “I am ready to die.”
For many of us, we only remember our fragility and weakness when we get a cold or find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control. This is only natural. The varying severity of our weaknesses may make us cry or blush with embarrassment. These experiences occur often enough in our lives that we can forget about what happens the rest of the time.
So what about the rest of the time? … in between the suffering, the lack, the injustice, and the fragility we feel? Are we invincible? Sometimes it feels that way. We feel good, or at worst we feel indifferent to life and all that goes on around us. But does this change anything about our fragility. No, clearly not. In fact we are always in this state of fragility. We would come undone were it not for one thing: the absolute, pure love of God, our Creator. God holds us and will never let us go. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is the truth, even when we feel we are on the precipice of destruction.
The man who faced death in the hospital faced this same precipice, yet he did not despair. He experienced the deafening silence of the love of God holding him together in the midst of his utter lack of power to control his fragility. Because of his keen sense of weakness in the face of God’s power and love, he was able, with great confidence, to surrender his life to the Lord with the hope that he would see God in eternal life.
I left this man’s hospital room with a deep sense of reverence and awe for the suffering he endured and the peace that resided in him as he gave up his life. I learned that when we embrace our own poverty and fragility, and trust in the goodness and the love of God, then we can begin to say the words, “I am ready to die.”