In October, ghosts and demons invade popular culture and artificial skeletons dance over tombstones on lawns. In addition to Halloween, some Long Islanders also observe the Day of the Dead, celebrating the lives of people who have passed on. This week’s clergy discuss how religious belief can help conquer the fear of death that may accompany the season.
Rabbi Ben Herman
Jericho Jewish Center
The last words we say at the end of Shabbat morning services and before we go to bed are, “God is with me and I will not fear.” These words acknowledge that the world can be a scary place, and at times we might feel alone and vulnerable. This is most certainly true in regard to death.
The Talmud teaches that sleep is 1/60th (a taste) of death so before going to sleep, when we have no control over our bodies, we acknowledge God’s role as our protector. Much of our fear of death stems from a fear of not being in control. We love life and living and fear for a time when we will no longer be on earth. We love our families and cannot imagine a time when we are no longer here for them. What religion and faith entail is a belief that everything will be OK. Although we cannot control how many days we will live on this planet, we have ultimate control over the example we set for our children and our grandchildren, our nephews and nieces, our cousins and dear friends.
Judaism teaches that while we bury the body, our soul (or spirit) lives on, and we will always be present in spirit. It’s not a vanishing into nothingness but rather a step in a process. By seeing death as a part of what it means to be a human being, we recognize that we have nothing to fear.
The Rev. Thomas Cardone
Chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale
At the beginning of a funeral, the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water and says, “In the waters of baptism [Name] died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he/she now share with him eternal glory.” In baptism, we enter into the passion of Christ and the communion of saints. From the very beginning of our faith journey, we are in relationship with God; we are never alone. We are part of a community who live the gospel message and believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
Religion is about relationship. As believers, we are called to keep that relationship alive on a regular basis. Prayer, rosary, Bible reading, regular confession and Sunday Mass keep us in a steady relationship with God and each other. As death approaches, fear diminishes because we trust that this relationship, which we have nurtured throughout life, will continue and that we will, in communion with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, see God face-to-face.
At the end of a funeral we hear, “I know that my redeemer lives: On the last day I shall rise again.” This is our hope that ushers us from life on earth to life with God.
Gayatri Gyan Kendra of Long Island:
Life is eternal, according to Hindu philosophy. In the holy book Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjun, “The wise grieve neither for the dead or the living. There was never a time when you or I did not exist.” He explains why one should not be afraid of death and grief by saying, “For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.” He explains that the soul is ever eternal by comparing the body to old clothes that are discarded for new ones, as the soul migrates from body to body.
According to a great sage, Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya, considering death as the end of life is a great delusion. The soul is ageless, timeless and indestructible. The fear of death ensues from the misconception that with the end of physical existence, the individual loses her or his identity in totality. A firm conviction in the continuity of the soul absolves man from this fear.
People are afraid of many things, but the fear of death is supreme, the very thought of which makes one shiver. The reason for this is ignorance of the environment of life beyond physical death. If a person uses wisdom and engages in righteous acts and thoughts all the time, then there would be no reason to be fearful of death.