I guess death and our mortality are just something we have to come to terms
with, especially as we get older. The only thing in life that we can be
certain of for ourselves and those around us is that sooner or later death will
visit. It may, as in the case of my grandmother, or my cat, be timely and seem
somehow just, although that is not to take away in any way from the
momentousness of such sad events. Or it may seem cruelly untimely or unjust,
and leave you asking "why?".
Thankfully no relatives of mine have been killed or suffered other untimely
deaths, though I do remember the death of my dear Uncle Ken, who probably did
more to inspire my interest in all things technical than just about anyone else
in those early years. What upset me most about that was that my mother didn't
tell me about it until I had got back from school, lest it spoil my day. A
noble and well-meant gesture, I am sure, but I felt a little cheated.
A few children died while I was at school, but only one that I knew at all
well, a boy called Malcolm who suffered horrendous injuries after being knocked
off his bike in an attempted hit-and-run incident, the driver wrapping his car
round a lamp-post in his efforts to evade the scene. I do not remember that
causing me a huge amount of grief, though I was undoubtedly shocked at the
time, Malcolm being in my class.
Probably the greatest effect death had on me was when Clare, who I had known
closely for almost the first twenty years of my life, was struck down by a
so-called joyrider in Leeds. That hurt in particular because I was burdened
with having to break the news to my family, although it was only on doing so
that I could really believe that the unthinkable had happened and really start
grieving. I can still remember having to announce it, and not even being too
sure if she was dead, injured, or quite what, such was my utter state of
confusion and bewilderment.
A couple of years back, the husband of a close friend shot himself, after
losing his driving licence and feeling extremely frustrated and second-rate as
a result. This was a loving, though busy, guy, who I had shared a drink with
on a few occasions, and the news of his death came as a complete shock. Sadly
I did not find out in time for the funeral, and having not been able since
really to close that chapter, it still leaves me wondering if there was
anything I could have done - or perhaps shouldn't have done - that could have
meant that his two young sons would still have their dad.
And now I hear of the untimely deaths of two more people I knew, one an old
teacher of mine who died from cancer, and another, Jon, who simply dropped dead
one day for no apparent reason. It was only a couple of years ago that Mrs
Elderfield gave me a lift into Wycombe, not because she recognised me, but saw
me waiting at the bus-stop and took pity on this poor unkempt student, only
later realising who I was, initiating a good chat about what we'd been up to in
the time since I was at her school. And now she's dead.
Jon was about four years younger than me, but, living just round the corner
from each other, we often walked and talked together to and from school. To
hear that someone so young and apparently healthy had simply gone into work one
day and never came home, makes you realise that such things can happen to
anyone, at any time. All that happens as we get older is that the probability
of it happening increases, and can be affected - both for better or worse,
depending on the individual - by things like drinking, smoking, exercise, diet
and so on.
But to come to terms with these tragedies - and they all were in their own way
- as well as my own mortality, it has taken faith. I have never really been
scared by my own death, though for many years it was more by ignoring the
inevitability than anything else. Fear of the death of others close to me has
always been a worry though. But now I can look on death, if not as a positive
thing, exactly, then as just another step in a greater scheme, the details of
which we can but dream of.
Of course, I may be wrong - that's the nature of faith - but if it comforts me
during my life, allows me the promise of a share in the afterlife if there is
one, and hopefully makes me a better person in the meantime - and believe me, I
have improved a lot since becoming a committed Christian - then I say it's
worth the bother. Rather like buying life insurance, it's just not worth the
risk of not doing it, though unlike a life insurance policy, the pay-out on
maturity will hopefully be immeasurably greater than my puny contributions.
But why, if God is loving and caring, were these people plucked from this earth
so untimelily? I guess that's one of the mysteries of faith, but assuming that
what is next after this life is better than this one - and all the indications
are good - then it is only us as mortals who worry ourselves with such issues.
They may have left this earth, but what they now have is infinitely better,
released from the suffering and other burdens the world inflicts.
Our time will come to join them, some of us sooner, some of us later - and I
have no intention of hastening it, believing that we all have a purpose in life
- but it's nothing to be scared of. The transition is painful, of course, but
the reward is incalculable and the way is through Jesus, who died on the cross
as the ultimately painful and humiliating punishment for all humanity's
transgressions both past and future.
Being a Christian does not mean being squeaky clean, wearing cardigans and
saying grace all the time - though there are some activities that enhance or
degrade our relationship with God during our lives - but simply means accepting
and being thankful for what Jesus did for us. Popular thinking is that if
you're bad you go to hell, but not as a Christian. Jesus went to hell for
three days to atone for our badness; he's done our sentence, so instead the
promise of heaven is there for those who confess their sins to God and ask his
forgiveness through his son Jesus. It's as simple as that; is it really worth
the risk of not paying the insurance premiums?