The final sting

McCarthy, Abigail

Of several minds: Abigail McCarthy THE FINAL STING DEATH AND THE MODERN CHRISTIAN IN MARKING the Ascension Christians celebrate the final Easter action and the mystery of the triumph...

...Their acknowledgment and acceptance of what they faced forced others to confront mortality...
...All of us knew the sign of death within the spray of flowers on the door of a house, beribboned in purple for an adult, white for a child...
...Abigail McCarthy Commonweal: 262...
...Two of them one nationally known and admired, the other well-known and beloved in his community affected many others by this choice...
...But the death of the third friend was another matter...
...She refused hospital and medical care...
...Friends and family no longer shared the last of life...
...In the town in which I was born and spent my early years, people were born at home and died at home...
...Death was familiar then, and not so frightening, but it was also always an occasion for sadness and mourning...
...Comfort if any was ministered by professionals and strangers...
...He participates in the death of each of us...
...For the first Christians Easter was an answer to death for each person and for the community...
...They gave others the opportunity to offer comfort...
...They elected to die at home...
...We knew, too, the sound of church bells announcing the departure of the body from the church to the cemetery, and learned to count the slow, solemn strokes tolling out the age of the one who had died...
...In the Easter weeks we affirm that the Emmanuel the God-who-was-andis-with us took on the death of all...
...The liturgy of death stressed eternal rest, peace death as at best a surcease of struggle and suffering...
...She retreated to her home like the proverbial wounded animal to its lair...
...In a way I find some reconciliation of these contradictions in the choices made by three of my friends this past year...
...Those who die sharing any part of that death also share in some way in his rising...
...Of several minds: Abigail McCarthy THE FINAL STING DEATH AND THE MODERN CHRISTIAN IN MARKING the Ascension Christians celebrate the final Easter action and the mystery of the triumph over death...
...But it is not easy to recover the former relative ease we had with death...
...In dying she did not call for the filial concern and care of children and grandchildren perhaps because she did not want to risk its denial...
...they became bystanders...
...In the world in which we live, the experience of death is different and so is the perception of community...
...The once clear separation between body and soul is complicated for even those less than literal-minded by the fact that parts of one person's or if you like, one soul's body can live on and give life or use to another's...
...Death was relegated to hospitals and became the business of doctors, nurses, of the clergy hurrying in and out and, of course, of the undertakers who did their best to disguise it...
...She was a person to whom attention was paid...
...Our consciousness of it has altered...
...It became bad form, even for the dying, to advert to it...
...Every death is personal...
...If not, on our heads be it...
...In his story the action of dying includes the denial by friends, the revulsion in the garden, and the despairing cry on the cross, just as it includes the love, companionship, and devotion of those who suffered with him...
...We are at odds as to when death occurs...
...We played under windows from which floated the murmur of those sitting with the dying, and thought a coffin in the living room nothing strange...
...For any explanation we go back to the death that brought us Easter...
...The dying were medical failures left to machines and their technicians...
...The fact of death was avoided...
...The reaction set in some years ago, put in process by thinkers like K\:ubler-Ross and by efforts to recover the humane like the hospice movement...
...And also in a liturgy of death which now, for Catholics, celebrates the happiness of death as entry into eternity...
...In the petition for the unbelieving on Good Friday we ask that they find God ' 'by sincerely following what is right," and that they may recognize in our lives ' 'the tokens of his love and mercy...
...Inevitably their dying evoked the question of whether life persists or not...
...The sharp physical line between life and death is now blurred...
...My friend was proud, aged, filled with discontent, reserved, and without the art of intimacy...
...Can we accept that because she could not believe, because her death was bitterly private, that it was any less meaningful...
...To the end, she was capable of making new ones...
...Even in my early years the more communal way of death had begun to change in our town and had changed, I suppose, in the nearby cities long since...
...To say this is only to say what almost everyone now admits and deplores...
...She had a wide circle of friends who found her charming and interesting...
...And many of us live too long and are, in the end, so altered and enfeebled that it is difficult to find meaning in our deaths...
...Every death among friends or family is a foretaste of one's own...
...Since each one's dying is ultimately quite alone, we must trust that a friend in unbelief who followed the right had seen in us tokens of love and mercy sufficient for that moment...
...We must believe that in our widened sense of community otherwise we cannot cry Alleluia...
...Insofar as any modern Christian enters into the liturgical observance, he or she finds it difficult to grapple with the mystery as more than an abstraction...
...It was essentially denied...
...We children 3 May 1985: 261 often lived with approaching death in the next room or down the hall...
...They raised up death for the consideration of those whose lives they touched...
...She accepted the concern and affection of friends who were at a distance, but forestalled the expression of either from those who were nearby...
...The contemporary Christian who has shared such a person's life must say no...
...however, their very ability to live and love fully and in a community of belief until the end makes it difficult to think other than that they continue to live now, that life is indeed everlasting...
...She evoked devotion in those who worked for her...
...They invited participation in their own sufferings...
...In the light of all this there is a certain irony but also, perhaps, a salutary contradiction in scriptural study which reaffirms death as prelude to an altered state in which one is new, changed, and participant in intense life...
...As far as it can be known, she died uncomforted, unhappy, and unbelieving...
...Every death is particular...
...The singular, lonely character of death has been heightened today by what Pheme Perkins aptly called its "mechanization" in modern hospitals (Commonweal, April 5), but ever was a lonely act, even in the more humane setting'of my own memory...
...Yet she had loved, as she could, her own and cared for them...

Vol. 112 • May 1985 • No. 9


 
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