I’ve come across some odd weeks in my time … up until now the winner for me was ‘national wash your hands’ week … but this week, in the UK, is apparently National Death Issues Awareness Week. And its sponsored by some pretty high powered sounding people, too, not least the National Council for Palliative Care.
A straw poll in our youth club this week revealed that amongst the young teenagers there, by far the largest group would say that they thought about death and dying every single day of their lives. It makes you think … doesn’t it?
The idea of this awareness week is to get people talking about how they want things to be in the last few days of their lives. It’s all very laudable stuff around issues that arise during what can be very disorientating and sensitive times of life. I’ve been a working pastor for 27 years now. I’ve been close to and I have seen some of these issues and anything that helps deal with these has got to be good!
So what the organisers of National Death Awareness Week are trying to do (and it seems like a well planned and well executed campaign) is to get people to agree plans with their relations and friends to take control of the last days of life so that things go the way they’d like them to. And, sure … it’s great if you can!
But let’s be realistic too. This is the last time in life we will be reminded that we are not in control of the circumstances of our lives, and not masters of our own destiny. We all want to die ‘a good death’. But the fact is that it might be better to learn to live content that our destiny is in another safer pair of hands, than find (distressingly) that we aren’t actually in control at the last moment.
The fact it seems to me is that we are NOT in control of our circumstances or our destiny. Resilience rather than ‘control’ seems to be the biggest need. And whilst we want to make sure that (humanly speaking) maximum dignity is afforded to every human being throughout their earthly experience, ultimately resilience to the inevitable vicissitudes along with peace of heart and soul come from putting your faith and trust in the utter reliability of the Living God – whatever comes our way. And that’s something we learn to do in the more ordinary moments of our lives as we go from day to day. You can’t just whip it up at the very end!
Now, this isn’t just a lot of morbid twaddle and neither is it simply airborne pie. There IS a healthy Christian approach to end of life issues. The Apostle Paul typifies it as he writes towards the conclusion of his own life in 2 Timothy 4 vv 5-7: ” But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
I fear that there might be more to end of life issues than is hitting the media this week … but I reckon we do owe a debt of gratitude to the people behind this week of awareness … because it’s got to be good that we’re able to discuss these things, hasn’t it?