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HomeCommentaryEmbracing Death: Reflections on Faith, Mortality and Preplanning One's Farewell

Embracing Death: Reflections on Faith, Mortality and Preplanning One’s Farewell

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By Pete Haug | FāVS News

In a world beset by violence, media offer us ringside seats to death daily, but it’s usually in some far-off place. Until it isn’t.

In March I lost two long-time friends, one in Arizona, the other in Colorado. Not at all far away. Bruce was my boss for several years, and we’d remained friends for decades. Pete was a friend for nearly 60 years. The differences between their deaths was striking. Particularly striking for me was how their respective faiths contributed to the way they died.

We planned it this way.

Even more interesting is the fact that my wife Jolie (85) and I (88) just finished planning our own funerals. We began in December and finalized arrangements in early March. We’ve been having a great time sharing each step with our three children and their spouses.  For example, after getting a preliminary estimate from the funeral home, we thought we could get a better price by ordering caskets online.

After some research we ordered one and had it shipped, saving about $400. When it arrived, we checked it out, not for fit, but for quality. The simple, all-wood pine box set us back $1,000 including shipping. A week later we received a Valentine’s Day promotion: Buy one for your sweetheart and save $100, using the code LOVED1. So we did. Both caskets, now in the barn, await future use. Then we finalized our arrangements and selected gravesites. All in all, we were able to shave several thousand dollars from the initial estimates for the two of us. We also relieved our kids of many decisions. Along the way we discovered the difference between “casket” and “coffin.” A casket has six sides, a coffin, eight.

“Death, be not proud…”

John Donne’s Sonnet 10, published in 1609, opens with those words and ends, “Death, thou shalt die.” It’s been one of my favorites since college. Dylan Thomas opened his poem with a similar thought, “And death shall have no dominion.” Lastly, the whimsey of Emily Dickinson charms me: “Because I could not stop for Death —/ He kindly stopped for me.”

These views of death from disparate sources, times, and places seem to converge on a perspective that uplifts the soul, much like Baha’u’llah’s perspective: I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?

Back to my departed friends

I don’t know what Bruce believed. He never discussed it with me or with his wife, as she explained in many discussions during his last weeks. In contrast, Pete had a strong Christian faith.

Bruce, in his final months, had many physical and mental problems, many of which seemed to make him uncooperative with care-givers. Details are unnecessary; he suffered. His wife and I both think it was because he appeared to have little or no faith. He seemed to be resisting, fighting death. At the end he was frightened.

Pete’s death was different. We learned of it in an email from his wife. He and she were reading in bed. Pete turned out his light and rolled onto his pillow. His wife noticed he didn’t look comfortable. When she leaned over to move him, Pete was dead.

The timeless, placeless world beyond

What happens next? Jolie and I have made arrangements for what will happen to our bodies in the material world. But the overriding uncertainty is, “What and where is the timeless, placeless world that most scriptures promise?” We don’t know because we can’t know.

Do souls exist and re-unite in “heaven,” a timeless, placeless, spaceless abode harboring countless trillions that preceded us? Poets, seers, theologians, charlatans, and myriad others have struggled to explain possibilities for a life after life. To what avail?

Cultural perspectives, learned as children, limit our understanding by directing our vision narrowly. We learn of the Great Spirit, Allah, God, Yahweh, the Omniscient, and infinitely more, all names and titles describing the indescribable. Each perspective is limited by the time and place where it first arose.

Some of us still follow the ways of our ancestral culture. Others totally reject the notion of a god, whatever the name. Still others test the waters of many faiths, eventually choosing one. Others seek until they die.

Free choice allows each of us to explore, to examine, and to choose a path we find comfortable. Some prefer to put off that choice until it’s too late. Growing old, I call to mind Baha’u’llah’s reminder, “the hours and moments of your lives have come and gone Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost.”

We’re still working on it, but we have arranged our first steps to the placeless.

Pete Haug
Pete Haug
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for favs.news in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 62 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.

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Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
18 days ago

Thank you for this brave reflecton facing what we don’t like to face. Ordering coffins on line!!! We hope to donate our bodies to WAMI’s medical program, but our they may be rejected as too decrepit. It’s good to try to take some control over what happens, in part, as you say, to unburden our children.

Lynn Kaylor
Lynn Kaylor
11 days ago

It makes sense to plan it yourself. Like one friend said, “There’s something about a funeral that just kills me.” When I attended my father’s funeral, I was utterly turned off at the loads and loads of pretense by the funeral director and a pastor who was completely out of touch with my father and my family, choosing instead to declare that my father “was dead because he’s a sinner.” In other words, everyone had their own agendas except to give comfort and support to my family. It was beyond disgusting.

On the other hand, whenever I suggested getting wills made up, relatives hammered me for “negativity” and “moroseness” at the very suggestion. So no will was ever done. But there was a divorce so a will didn’t matter anyhow because the family fell apart completely as a result. In my second marriage, we got our wills made the month of the wedding and I’m glad we did, for there would have been a colossal mess otherwise. Talking about wills isn’t morose or negative. It’s responsible. So are funeral arrangements.

So I made arrangements for deposition of my own remains. After I set off on that fantastic voyage into the bardo, there will be no funeral. My ashes will be scattered at sea. Then the fish will eat the ashes. Then all those relatives who hated me will eat the fish and have more brains in their stomachs than they ever had in their heads.

S

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