As the new year begins, it is only natural to take a reflective look back on the past year. For me, 2010 brought great joy and new opportunities, but it also brought the loss of many older adult friends. Within a few months, the two women who had been my mother’s tablemates at a senior residence passed away. Then there was my 93 year-old gentleman friend who always kept me laughing during our special IHOP lunches. The list goes on and on.
Each week when I visit older friends at their care centers and homes, I am struck by the way life and death do their odd dance in these so-called golden years. Almost always, there is someone facing a major medical procedure with a dreary diagnosis. Another has fallen and broken a hip and will be in rehab for months. The ambulance has come for another who lives down the hall. There are conversations about funeral plans while playing Bingo and talk of casket linings at the salad bar.
It’s a strange mix– life and death. As my 96 year-old friend, Ruby, always said, “It’s just one of those things.” Indeed it is. Death is just one of those things on the minds of older adults. They wonder about how it will come when it’s their turn. Will they go in their sleep as they so desperately hope? Or will earthly life end with some big medical crisis?
In a video study of the Gospel of John, Dr. Mickey Efird of Duke University Divinity School talks about how we don’t like the word “die.” We’d much prefer to say a person “passed away” or that we “lost” someone even though scripture is very straightforward about death. I think Dr. Efird is right. There’s a part of us that wants to cushion death and make it sound somehow softer.
The truth is, living amid death is hard. Living when others are dying all around you is not for the weak of spirit. So I wonder, where is the church in this dance of life and death? Have we chosen to sit this one out and watch from the sidelines? Oh, I pray not.