Death, Be Not Proud

Last night came the telephone call we had been expecting for a long time, although, when it did come, it came as a shock, as these things always do. Quietnun’s mother, Jean King, slipped quietly out of this world and into the next. She was 97.

I imagine Mrs King would be mildly perplexed by her daughter’s praying for her. As a good Scottish Episcopalian, she was not exactly in sympathy with Quietnun’s firm belief in purgatory as the final preparation for the vision of God. All the rituals with which we surround the dead body — the sprinkling with holy water, the incensing, the deep bows to what was in life a temple of the Holy Spirit and is now closer to that vision of God than those of us who remain — would have seemed alien to her. I have no doubt, however, that she would have affirmed her belief in her Saviour, Jesus Christ, and trusted to the love of her children to perform all the last offices with reverence and dignity.

Death has become something of a taboo subject today. We use euphemisms like ‘passed away’ and speak of ‘the deceased’ as though they had ceased to be real persons. The truth is, they are more real now than they have ever been. We shall soon be celebrating the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Together they invite us to understand what the Church is, what her hope is, and how we ourselves fit into the great story of humanity and our redemption in Christ.

Today in the monastery there is no weeping and wailing but instead a grave quietness, a sense of irreplaceable loss, a confident hope in the goodness and mercy of God. In short, a host of apparently contradictory feelings brought into unity by the belief that Mrs King has entered upon the final purifcation and we can aid her by our prayers. Death destroys many things, but it cannot destroy love which reaches beyond this world to the next.


13 thoughts on “Death, Be Not Proud”

  1. I hope Quietnun is coping with this sad news. You are so true how we say ‘deceased’, ‘assed away’, ‘sleeping’. My mother in law died last year around this time, and we interred her ashes at the local church on the first anniversary of her death.
    We made sure when talking about her to the children we did not use these euphamisms. The children needed to understand the message and think of their Grandma with love.
    On All Saints and All Souls I will be visiting her to pay respects and the family will be there too.

  2. Thank you for talking so honestly about death. We have become s sanitized nowadays. Death is just the opening into the next adventure with Almighty God. We pray for Quietnun as she misses her mother but rejoices in all that she stood for.

  3. Thanks you for these words surrounding the often taboo subject of death. I am C of E rather than RC, and, although it is my personal custom to bow before a body as a mark of respect and love for the person that was, I can’t remember hearing words to the effect of the body being ” what was in life a temple of the Holy Spirit”, and have found those words very enabling.
    My thoughts and prayers are with your community and in particular Quietnun at this time.

  4. May I offer my condolences too. No matter what age when a loved one leaves us there is a void. I am sure
    Quietnun will take solace in that she is going to a better place. I like Portia am an Anglican tho one of my best
    friends is a R C Priest and I love reading your columns
    every day

  5. Thank you for your kind remarks and, above all, your prayers. Someone asked me about the title of the post. It is a reference to those well-loved lines of John Donne:

    DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so, 
    For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow, 
    Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
    From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,       
    Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow, 
    And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
    Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
    Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 
    And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well, 
    And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then; 
    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, 
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

  6. In my work life I deal with death all too often. Whenever I have to confirm death I find myself still talking to the person even though I know they cannot hear me in the same way anymore. Although their mortal remains lie in the hospital bed in front of me their soul lives on and so I talk to them.

    Thoughts and prayers with QuietNun, her family and everyone in the monastery.

Comments are closed.