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The Meaning of Death

Updated on August 31, 2014

One woman posts on facebook "I lost my best friend yesterday" at the death of her thirty-five year old husband. She has a two-year-old and a baby on the way. A thirty-three year old man crumples at the knees in the parking lot. His wife was just given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. After she dies, his down syndrome sun keeps asking "when is mommy coming home?" The boy has a hard time understanding never. A sixty-two year old father, husband, and grandfather goes in for what the doctors call a "routine heart surgery." The family is given every assurance things will be just fine. The all clear signal comes out from surgery, he made it through. One hour later, the family finds out they had to go back in to his chest to retrieve a wire. The man never stops bleeding.

Death never seems to make an appointment. Rarely does it put a date on the calendar. Life just breaks off into the dark.

When death snaps off the end of a perfectly good life we call it tragic. The word doesn't do much to get at the deep black well of rising pain in the chest.

Is there any meaning in death?

I have been thinking about these kinds of experiences. I think we used to be more prepared for death. We grew up in more tight-knit communities. When someone died in the community, everyone came to give their respects. Visitations and viewings used to actually be in the home of the deceased's family.

Now they are in sterile and neutral funeral homes with pale green paint on the walls, and vases with cracks to make them look old. Lines of chairs ready for the next day's formal goodbye. We only go to those events when the death is really 'tragic', or when we knew someone well. It isn't uncommon for a twenty-five year old young adult to have never attended a funeral.

Even connections with family are thinned and stretched out, as Bilbo Baggins put it, "like too little butter spread over too much bread." Since we don't live close to extended family much anymore, we don't feel the need to attend a cousin's wake, or a great aunts viewing, or a second cousin's funeral.

As a result we are rarely faced with the troubling realization, "that could just as easily be me." There, in the casket, a waxy face turns into a mirror. Why him and not me? Why her and not me? There is never an answer to a "Why" thrown out into the shadows of grief. No answer ever returns. Yet everyone has to ask the question if they are going to face death. Without facing death, no one understands life.

How can we really grasp how precious it is to hold a toddler's hand while she learns to walk? That is of course, unless we understand death. How can we fully savor the great gift it is to snuggle close to another body every night in a shared and warm bed? We cannot, not without glimpsing death. We learn something when we go through grief with others. We learn that life always comes in a box stamped fragile, handle with care. We learn that new tile in the bathroom, a remodeled kitchen, or an award won at work pale in significance to the words, "you are my dearest friend."

We learn that words of comfort rarely comfort, but silent embraces always do. We learn that a memory made, filled with laughter, warmed with love, and surrounded with peace is more valuable than a promotion, a competition, or a wealthy retirement.

We need to go more often to the house of mourning. In fact, as painful as it is, we should go every chance we get. It is there, facing death, that we finally see life for what it is.


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    • helpingfriends profile image


      8 years ago from Midwest

      I have found that helping others through death is one of the most meaningful things I can do. I will never forget the moments i have spent by the death bed of a dear friend.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I don't see where I was insulting at all ... perhaps I've got some "thick skin" on me or something ...

    • Dave Ward profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Ward 

      8 years ago from Goldenrod Plains

      Mr. Happy, You can see my reasoning there in the comment section.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    • Dave Ward profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Ward 

      8 years ago from Goldenrod Plains

      Sometimes we can use the language of destiny, or appointed time, or predestination to avoid dealing with the horrible mystery of death. Even when people of faith hold tightly to faith commitments, as they should, in the face of death it doesn't answer the question of why. God refused to give Job, even Job, an answer to why. If God ordains the day of each death, then why the loving father of two rather than the abusive absentee father who will never change his ways? Why is never answered. But in the face of death, we are reminded about the fragility of life. If each day is ordained, then it is a gift to be treasured. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.

    • Captain Jimmy profile image

      Captain Jimmy 

      8 years ago from WV

      We all have an appointed time.

      Hebrews 9:23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

      Hebrews 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

      Hebrews 9:25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

      Hebrews 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

      Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

      Hebrews 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

    • Dave Ward profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Ward 

      8 years ago from Goldenrod Plains

      This is true. I am disturbed though by even our faith communities' lack of connection with others as they go through death. We need to be sure we are connected with our faith community deeply, and involved in helping others through death. We are part of God's plan for seeing others through I believe.

    • SwiftlyClean profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      Only God can prepare one's heart and see them thur.

      Peace and Blessings!

      Sharon Smith


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