At the hour of our death

I’ve been alive for just over twenty-seven years. “You’re still so young,” I’m told again and again. I think it’s implied that I still have a long way to go — many more people to meet, places to go, things to accomplish. But all the recent deaths young and old, within my immediate and not-so-immediate circles, have impressed upon me a reality universally acknowledged yet almost universally neglected: that death comes unannounced.

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.” It rolls of the tongue so effortlessly, often thoughtlessly. It feels almost like a hedge bet at times: just be praying me for me all the time in all that I do…oh, yes, and just in case, also whenever it is in the distant future that I happen to be dying. But seven Sundays ago I uttered those exact words while standing next to my dying aunt, and I thought about what that meant. Death was so close, so imminent, so real. My aunt was in the final leg of her earthly sojourn. This could certainly be the hour of her death.

She was still conscious, but too weak to open her eyes or to speak. In the last week of her life, though surrounded by loved ones, there were no more two-way conversations nor instructions that could be communicated. Did she fear crossing over to the other side? Did she have any parting words left unsaid? Whatever was going on in her mind and heart, none of us was privy to it. It was solely between her and God.

This was to me a stark picture of the hour of one’s death — to have to reckon with the fact that we will depart from this life on our own. Even the best and most steadfast of friends and family won’t be accompanying us. They can go no further than being present at our deathbeds, if the opportunity presented itself at all. And yes, they will pray for us, but ultimately that step into the next life is one we will take on our own. And then we will meet God face to face, with no intermediary in the form of community, clergy, words, images, statues, songs, or the liturgy. How do we feel about that prospect?

Does it sound like homecoming? A reunion with our first love? The fulfilment of all we’ve been yearning and preparing for in this life?

I will meet the God I’ve professed to love with my lips, perhaps occasionally with my actions. The God whom I’ve read about, talked about, written about. To whom I’ve addressed countless petitions during the darkest episodes of my life. But at the hour of my death, will I rejoice at the thought of meeting Him face to face? Or will I be filled with the dreadful realisation that I don’t know the One whom I am about to face?

My aunt didn’t go that very weekend, and I had to fly back to Singapore. It was Holy Week. On Holy Tuesday, I wept as I prayed for her at Mass. Not because I was worried about the state of her soul, since knew she’d always been steadfastly close to Our Lord, but because of the realisation of the seeming loneliness of the hour of her death. But somehow, something or someone wordlessly impressed deep in my soul that she would go on Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ death. I kept this in my heart and continued on with the subsequent days.

When I woke up on the morning of Good Friday, I read a text from my dad which said my aunt had passed on earlier that morning. It sounds inappropriate to rejoice at any death, but the instinctive reaction was happiness. I’m not the type to neurotically keep my eyes peeled for ‘signs’, but the news presented itself as an affirmation that she’s in good hands. She had suffered with Christ throughout Holy Week (and much of her life), and has died with Him, and will rise with Him. Surely that last leg of her journey couldn’t be adequately characterised as ‘lonely’. Surely it was a special privilege of uniting herself with Christ. In a hidden, intimate way. Yes, none of us were privy to it. It was between her and her God.

All of a sudden her departure made sense. And given what I know of her and the faith so dear to her, I couldn’t but believe she would have wanted this.

At the hour of my death, I may not be a saint. I probably won’t be in a state of ecstasy, gaze lifted and arms outstretched towards the heavens. There will surely be some degree of fear.

But however death comes for me, be it expected or unexpected, sudden or gradual, excruciating or pain-free, and whatever I happen to be doing with my life at that juncture, I would like death to come not as an interruption, but a culmination. I would hope that no one laments the circumstances saying, “Oh, how cruel is death, to have taken her this way/at such a time.” I hope my departure will make sense. I hope I would have, by that time, figured out how to live in a way where you’d be able to say, “Ah, this is the moment she’s been living for.”

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6 thoughts on “At the hour of our death”

  1. Well said…”we will depart from this life on our own… then we will meet God face to face”. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Essay, The Weight of Glory:
    “In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. “. Seeing God face to face is the theme of my blog. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have a friend who works for hospice, and she says that most people exit this life in the manner in which they lived. A person who created chaos has a chaotic ending; a peaceful person has a peaceful ending. I hope that this is true, and I’m working on being more peaceable.

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  3. Thank you for sharing so sweetly and intimately with us. I look forward to going home to Jesus. As I live intimately with him here, the prospect of being with him in “person” (as much a spirits can with a new body) is tremendous to me. But I know so many people who haven’t chosen to know him and, as the above comment says, will leave as they lived. I’m so glad your aunt had a good passing into the arms of Jesus. But the loss on this side is always great for us. I’m praying for you and your family’s comfort and peace.

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  4. A very thought-provoking post. I would say that each of us face death in our own way and according to the particular circumstances we are in (short illness, long illness, something sudden, younger age, older age, saved or unsaved and so on). But that doesn’t mean we face death alone. I have heard a number of testimonies by people with a close relationship to God that they feel even closer as they knew the time was drawing near and were comforted by that increased presence of the Lord.
    I was not saved until my mid-30’s. But I always felt God’s hand on me and my life. And from my earliest memories, I never remember a time where I feared death. There may have been times when I wasn’t ready to go because I had so much I wanted to accomplish. But somehow I always felt that God had prepared a place for me as Jesus told His disciples in John 14.
    Being old and infirm and increasingly helpless is far more daunting to me than death ever was. And now that I am 65, I see the possibility of that growing closer. So much the more I want to add to my legacy of serving Him (and perhaps some accomplishments more secular in nature to provide the financial means to do things for Him).

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  5. What a beautiful, heart-felt post! I love this phrase you used, “Ah, this is the moment she’s been living for.” May that be said of me as well. I want to walk so closely with Jesus here that the walk home feels like the next step on the path. Ahhh…beautiful. Thank you!

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