Learning to die well.

I think it’s safe to say we all want to die well. But Rob Moll is saying something slightly different. “Not everyone who dies grows old. Though we may expect to live to a ripe old age, nothing guarantees it. Younger people die in car accidents, while cancer frequently strikes those who are middle aged. We all need to learn to die well, whatever age we are. Our lives will be enriched by thoughtfully and prayerfully considering our death.”

Rob Moll was a journalist and Christianity Today editor who wrote the book, The Art of Dying. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while – originally published in 2010 it was re-released after Rob’s death in 2019 from a fall while hiking in the mountains. Rob was one of those younger people who die in accidents. But he was not one of those younger people who failed to think about dying.

Maybe you’ve experienced the death of a friend or loved one recently. When I started reading Rob’s book this spring I wrote a list on the inside fly-leaf.

  • Micaela Schneider, Dec 2019
  • Steve Walters, Feb 2020
  • Jon Lee, Oct 2020
  • Diana Metz, Feb 2021
  • Susan Darlington, Apr 2021

These five loved ones are why I’m not only reading Rob’s book, I’m doing what his book asks readers to do. These are all people who died too soon. A friend’s daughter taken in an auto accident, a former team-mate of mine at Christ Community (four years older than me) passed away from cancer, two high-school classmates of mine (both my age) – one dropped to his death on the floor suddenly from a cardiovascular event while retrieving his mail, the other a rare cancer took her life in less than a year. The last person on the list, the mom of an in-law of mine, needing an emergency surgery she never awoke from. All these people lived well. Only two had time to think of how they would die while still living.

Me and my neighbor, Diana Camren. Spring 1982. Mt. Zion High School

Rob says in his book that the church has forgotten how to prepare people for death. This is partly because of shifts in today’s culture and partly because of the availability of medical, end-of-life intervention. Till recently he contends, Christians have known how to die well because they thought about it, prepared for it and belonged to communities that knew what to do.

“Death was not just a medical battle to be fought, nor a loss to be mourned. It was a spiritual event that required preparation. The dying performed it in public as evidence of their faith and to provide instruction to others. Rather than waiting for illness to overtake them, these Christians were actively involved in their own dying.”

These five, their surviving family and many others over the years, are my teachers in the school of learning to die well. I am a part of a community that needs to learn what to do with death. I need to learn what to do with death so I can be present with others if/when they face death. I need to learn what to do with death because it seems to be happening around me more frequently the older I get. I need to to learn what to do with death because one day I may need to bring those I love along side me at the end of my life.

Doug, Terry, Janet, John and Lisa – thank you for sharing the life and death of your beautiful loved ones with me. Thanks for showing me the path of courageous lament and grieving. Our world is so much richer because of your loved ones. I hope I learn how to be present and how to bring hope and joy in the midst of loss. I hope I am more ready for my own passing when that time comes.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you’d like a copy of The Art of Dying. I can get it to you for a nice discount. Just hit the link below and email me directly.

Prepare your heart for your departure. If you are wise, you will expect it every hour. And when the time of departure comes, go joyfully to meet it saying: Come in peace. I knew you would come, and I have not neglected anything that could help me on the the journey.” -St. Isaac the Syrian

Be blessed. Stay well.

tim.perry@intervarsity.org

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