Dying a Good Death

There seems to have been a lot of interest recently in dying well. I notice, for example, that the question of ‘terminal care’ has been addressed by both individuals and groups, and many suggestions have been made about how to make the process of dying easier both for the one who is dying and those close to them. I agree with many of their suggestions, but, oh, how much simpler the whole idea of a good death is if one happens to be Catholic! My own hope is that I will go to my death peacefully, shriven of my sins, anointed with oil, Communicated, surrounded by prayer; but if I die in my sleep, or alone and in agony, it can still be a good death. What matters is that one’s own death is united with the death of Christ our Saviour. I say this from a position of faith, aware that to many — even to many good Christians — it may not make much sense; so it is important to stress that it is not a ‘feeling faith’ I am talking about, but a willed faith. St Thérèse of Lisieux experienced great darkness and spiritual isolation before she died, but she died a good and holy death.

Most of the death-beds I’ve attended have shown me someone dying as they lived: with grace and humour for the most part, but sometimes with fear and confusion. It can be very painful for the onlooker, but one needs to remember that the act of dying is as important as the act of being born. It is a mystery, with depths we cannot yet fathom. Much must be taken on trust; but whenever, wherever and however we die, we die as part of the Church, as a member of the Body of Christ. We are never completely alone, never completely helpless. It is no accident that the commonest prayer to Our Lady, the ‘Hail Mary,’ contains the petition, ‘pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ It is a good prayer to pray for the dying, for one day we shall be among their number.

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9 thoughts on “Dying a Good Death”

  1. As I spend time with dying people I see a difference between those with faith and those without. It’s not the often-suggested (by sceptics usually) vague anodyne ‘comfort’ but a practical support to the person at the end of life that their life and death have a real meaning, a significance put on a higher level by being united with Jesus’ redemptive death. Believers don’t always die more easily or gently but there is no fear of complete loss.
    I struggle with non-believers to find what matters to them at the real core of their being to validate their life and death.
    I work in end of life care, providing all-night cover with people who have chosen to die at home so the family and friends who are their regular carers can enjoy a night’s sleep

  2. Having spent most of my adult life caring in ine way or another with the dying and the funerals I can echo all you write.

    Death will be good no matter how it comes to us for we are always with God.

    • I know what you mean, but, speaking for myself, I’ve never really liked the idea of battling illness or death. They are part of life, part of us: we live with them. St Francis spoke of Sister Death, and I think when Brother Ass is tired and weary, he can welcome her embrace.Having said that, I’ve not the slightest hesitation in hoping that my own death will be a long time off!

      • I so agree I dislike the terminology of warfare when used to describe illness.

        Death is our friend now, one to be welcomed

  3. Thank you for writing about this.
    My dear friend Cristina, who died of a lung cancer, after quite a tormented life, wanted to die gracefully, and she did. She is quite an inspiration for me.
    I used to be afraid of death. I see it as a new birth now, into another dimension…

  4. I spent a great deal of time sitting with my mother during her last illness and death. She seemed to have no faith (I cannot know what was in her heart) and she clung to life. In the end her long, slow death seemed sad and gruesome, particularly in the last few days and hours.
    When I die, I hope to be able to put myself into the hands of God and, whatever the pain or suffering I have to endure, to die in peace and with love for others.
    Last week, I was at the funeral of a Greek Orthodox friend. His death had been no less slow and dreadful than that of my mother but he had made his confession and received unction and his priest and family spoke of his happiness at washing himself of his sins by confession and putting himself into the hands of God.
    My mother died as she wished: she was at home being nursed 24 hours per day by myself and my sister-in-law (with support from an excellent local hospice) but she was still unhappy and not at peace.
    I learnt a great deal from both of these deaths and I pray that when my own time to die arrives that I will be free and at peace like my friend and not chained to earth’s troubles and suffering, like my mother.
    In each moment of our lives we still have a choice as to how we face the next moment. At the end, that choice is the only thing we still own and it is the most valuable thing we have ever had.
    God’s mercy is infinite, however, whatever our faults.

  5. I’ve noticed that it’s not just death itself that people shy away from but the thought of death, even the word ‘death’. Might it be simply a fear of the unknown? Perhaps it is also why so many people die intestate, without having made a will, something that forces them to face their own mortality.

    My Mum died at 90 years of age, in hospital after suffering a stroke. I was not with her when she died; I live 80 miles away (for my work) and am carer to my wife, who has only limited mobility.

    Mum had make quite good progress toward recovery, whilst she was in the hospital’s stroke ward. Later, when she was moved from that ward to the elderly care ward, her recovery faltered, then stopped and even reversed. I think it was because whilst on the stroke ward Mum had hope, that was taken away when she was moved to elderly care, where she just gave up; hope can be powerful motivation.

    I do not fear my own death, I never have even before I became Christian. What I fear is the manner in which I might die, which I pray will be easy and peaceful and if it can’t be like this, will be quick. and I fear how my wife will cope if I should die before her.

    If I might quote a beautiful line from Rachel Joyce’s book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, “Queenie parted her lips, hunting for the next intake of air. And when it didn’t come, but something else did, it was as easy as breathing.”

    P.s. The book I quote from, although not intended as a Christian novel, is a lovely story of faith, hope and, ultimately, redemption.

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