“Dying People Are Not Afraid of Dying”

Yesterday, I was flipping through a new book by Rabbi Steve Leder titled, The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift. The book emerged from a popular sermon the rabbi delivered about death on Yom Kippur, from the rabbi’s extensive experience accompanying the dying and their grieving families and, importantly, from the fruit of his own experience suffering the loss of his father.

I read the initial chapters and this paragraph in particular really struck me:

Whoever wrote the third chapter of Ecclesiastes (later made famous by the Byrds) was right. There really is a time for everything. Most people are ready for death the way we are all ready for sleep after a long and exhausting day. We just want to pull the covers up around our aching heads and settle in for the peace of it all. We are not anxious about sleeping. We are not depressed about it. We are not afraid of it. Disease, age, and life itself prepare us for death. There is a time for everything, and when it is our time to die, death is as natural a thing as life itself. Consider this very good news for those of us who fear death. Dying people are not afraid of dying. If you are afraid of dying, it is not your day. Anxiety is for the living. So if you are worried and anxious about dying, you’re not dying. Which means you have time to let death teach you about living and loving your life. 

Do you have any reason to dispute Rabbi Leder on this?

If not, does this explanation change your understanding of death?

Lastly, does hearing of the peace that comes with rest alter the anxiety of living at all?

Have you tried something at which you could fail lately?

I find it striking that palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware found the top regret of the dying patients she encountered to be, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Today I have been reflecting on the reasons for why this might be. Is it because others’ expectations are in real tension with our own? Or, is it because the expectations of others are so apparent to us and we do not actually know ourselves well enough to have expectations of our own?

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