No one wants to die—not even Mormon apostles who are supposed to have a sure knowledge of Christ—and therefore, I presume, of life beyond this world. Yet accounts of at least two apostles facing death describe them pleading with the Lord to preserve their lives—“so they can continue to do the Lord’s work”—an argument I don’t totally buy.
No one wants to die, but who wants to live imprisoned in a body whose only functioning organ is the heart? This week I visited 93-year-old aunt Dolly whose mind is working although her body is confined to bed or wheelchair. Always an independent woman, Aunt Dolly can now barely feed herself. After two years in a care center, her own resources are gone and she’s now on Medicaid, sharing a room with an agitated woman with advanced dementia. “I had considerable savings,” she mourned. “I never thought I’d outlive my money.”
Aunt Loosy is blind and in total dementia following a major stroke last summer. Nothing is left of her old self but her fight and her fears. She grasped my hand, begging me to take her home. “They’re trying to kill me,” she said. “They want my property. If you leave me here, I will die.” She calmed down before I left, but was still looking for her shotgun to use on the care center staff.
Both my aunts live without hope. Medical science can neither restore their health nor prevent their eventual death. Christianity is the religion of hope. Christians pray for miracles—and often expect them as a reward for good deeds. And I can’t help wondering if this hope—this expectation of miracles—makes it harder to accept the inevitability of one’s own death.
A Buddhist sensei spoke about being attracted to Zen because it was the philosophy of no hope. He found peace in acceptance of things the way they are rather than in hoping for a miraculous change. The Buddhist prayers I’ve heard pray for peace and acceptance rather than miracles. Perhaps it is easier to accept the end of life if a person comes from a tradition of surrender rather than a tradition of miracles.
Certainly some Christians attain this total surrender to God’s will—but they have to be pretty saintly—on the order of Mother Teresa. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for me. Nor is enlightenment with my inconsistent mediation practice. Instead of serenely accepting my waning days, I will doubtless huddle on my death bed forcing a prayer through my withered lips—begging for more time. Time to take that cruise to Antarctica. Time to get the last word with my right-wing brother.