Does the concept of a good death have any meaning today? Ask the modern citizen of any modern society the meaning of a good death and you are likely to get a narrow range of response sure to include one of the following phrases. Peacefully in your sleep. Quickly. Without suffering. Before I can’t take care of myself. Before I am a burden. I think we have lost the concept of a good death.
I think to some degree we can all identify with these sentiments. Whether we have said them or someone close to us has said them, we all know someone who thinks this way. But is that really a good death? In generations past, before the advent of modern palliative care, the suffering of death was less avoidable. As the common phrases above indicate, we now seek to avoid the unavoidable, suffering.
When I encounter someone, whether at work or in my personal life, who expresses such a sentiment I am quick with a morbid retort “Not me, I want a slow painful death. Plus, I want to be a burden to my family, that is what family is for!” While your average water cooler talk presents paltry possibility for such a discussion, the concussion of such a crack sometimes affords me a moment of conversation on the aspects of a proper passing.
My brooding bravado allows me a brief breath to extol the virtues of suffering. I explain, as quickly as I can, that I pray that God will grant me the time to do penance for my sin. I want that time because I need that time. Nothing unholy can have the vision of God. I need that purifying purgation, now or later.
When someone tells me that so-and-so has died, but thankfully they died quickly or even worse, they never knew what happened I am saddened. What they see as a mercy, I see as missed opportunity. To be sure, when a loved one’s long suffering is ended it should fittingly be viewed as a mercy. But a quick death for someone who didn’t see death coming seems, rather, a most morbid affair.
I want to see it coming. I need that time. Although I fear it, I want that time. I wish to make good on my faults and repay my debt. The debt will be repaid, I want to repay it while the interest rates are low.
I understand perfectly well the sentiments of the majority in desiring a quick exit and fault no one for it. We know the pain of this world and are loathe to imagine pain beyond it. But our fear of suffering will not spare us. Francis Bacon said “To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none.” Fear of suffering does not avoid it, it prolongs it.
For the sinner seeking God, a good death is embracing suffering while simultaneously fearing it. Our Lord did exactly that. He feared. He sweat blood. He embraced. In doing so he redeemed us all. May the Lord grant unto me a good death.