I want to thank all of you, dear readers, who took the time and the effort to send me condolences on the passing of my mom, Rosalie. You did what any community of faith or friendship can do at its best; you convinced me that I am not alone in my grief.
Reader M told me that her first great-grandchild was born on the day my mom died. Reader T sent me the Carmelite prayer that is an adaptation by the monks of an Anglican prayer offered in a 1910 sermon by Henry Scott-Holland (1847-1918), a priest at St. Paul's Cathedral of London. The sermon, "Death the King of Terrors," was preached while the body of King Edward VII lay in state at Westminster.
Death Is Nothing At All
By Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
So this wonderful poem gives voice to one of two truths about death: death is nothing, and death is everything.
The "death is nothing" view is nourished by the religious belief in Heaven. This view that death is just moving to the next room down the hall is comforting to be sure, and thanks to the influence of my dear friend Father Tom Hartman, I have been trying to reclaim the Jewish view of Heaven called Olam Habah, which means "The World to Come." The belief that death is not the end of us is the one constant religious belief among all the faiths of the world. This is because the hope in life after death for our souls, and even perhaps the eventual resurrection of our bodies and their reunification with our souls, provides a secure hope in the face of death. I believe in the World to Come, and I believe my mom and dad and Tommy are there waiting for me.
And yet ...
Something must be said about the other truth of death, the truth that death is everything. There is something just a little bit too easy and almost facile about the belief that death is just a trip down the hallway of existence into the next furnished room. The problem with this view is that it is true only for the dead person. For mourners like me, it is not true. The entire rest of my life will be lived without my parents and without Tommy. That is as close to forever as I can get, and it stings. They may be in the next room, but I do not have the key or the room number or their mobile phone number. For me death is not nothing. For me death is something — something forever, something wounding and something eviscerating.
For Buddhists the first noble truth is called dukkha, which means suffering. It is the suffering caused by losing something to which you were attached emotionally. The Buddhist solution is to avoid attachments and realize that everything is nothing. It is too late for me to seek such a release. I am already attached to my loved ones who have died.
I do not think that death can be addressed in a spiritually constructive and healing way unless one gives full credence to both truths about death. Death is nothing because our soul's journey continues beyond the grave, and death is everything because no other separation from our loved ones is so final or devastating.
The solution is to believe one or the other depending upon what your soul needs today.