By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Did you know that, on average, 151,600 die every day? That’s 6,317 people per hour, 105 people every minute, give or take a few.
People die in a variety of ways. Some of us die naturally, be it aging bodies, birth anomalies, or disease. Some of us die by accident, some by the hand of another. Some die because of lifestyle choices; others take their own lives intentionally. For certain, the chances that you and I will die in one way or another are 100 percent.
None of us are sure how and when we will go. We probably all want to go peacefully in our sleep at a time and date unknown to us: one minute here, the next minute not. If you are a spiritual person, as most of are according to statistics, you believe that you will have a life after this one in some form or fashion. I have many thoughts that I would be happy to talk with you about in private, but don’t want to express in this context. My point is that our physical death time is not something we can express a definite unless we intend to take our own life, or we have done something that would put us on death row, where a date is assigned to us.
I know of people who have been told by their doctors that they have six weeks, six months, or some other finite number as to the length of their remaining time in life who have lived way beyond their doctors’ predictions. Some of their lives were considerably shorter than predicted.
Marathon runners in seemingly excellent physical health have expired in the middle of a short run. Even the most meticulous examination has the potential for missing a crucial malfunction of your body, and a clean bill of health isn’t a guarantee of extended life. The workers and visitors at the World Trade Center probably went to their tasks there on Sept. 11, 2001, just like any other day, not knowing that, on that day, their lives would end in a most dramatic and tragic way. Life may take a fatal turn at any moment during our relatively short lives. One philosopher stated that from the moment we are born, we begin to die — a fairly morbid statement, but accurate.
When we think of death, and we surely don’t like or want to, we have mixed emotions. For ourselves, depending on what state of mind and spirit we are in, it can be a scary proposition or, it may be a relief and something for which to look forward. We explore thoughts like “Will it be painful?” and “What is on the other side of physical death?” We like the known and don’t care much for the unknown. And, for many, death is the greatest unknown.
Regardless of your age, death is something for which to contemplate and prepare. In my opinion, it is one of the most important things to prepare for spiritually. Compassionately, it is one of the most important things to prepare for physically. Death certainly impacts the person who dies the most but not only. A person develops relationships in their time on earth, family, and friends. We get married and have children.
We develop bonds. And when we die, it breaks a physical bond. In this case, for the person who passes, whatever pain that was being endured, emotional or physical, is over. For loved ones remaining, it is a new time of pain and suffering. Experiencing the loss of a mother, father, spouse, or child could be the most traumatic events in a person’s life. Death is devastating in that it is a permanent physical separation from a loved one. Even if you are a believer in a reunion of body and spirit, and the eventual eternal reunion with loved ones, the sensation of permanent loss had to dismiss.
In that moment of loss, most survivors realize that their deceased loved one did not prepare for this event. No decision or prevision has been made for death. In most other things in life, we will have a plan, an outline of how things should go. Death is the one thing in life that we often neglect to plan for, and that is ironic since it is the one thing that is surely going to happen. Despite the old saying, taxes are not even as sure as death.
So, are you prepared to die? Again, a question you should know spiritually. But, have you done the kindness to your loved ones that you need to do by preparing a will, selecting and purchasing a plot and other items needed for the disposition of your remains and the type of send-off you wish to take place? Emotionally, have you talked to your family about these things?
Finally, are you living with a mindset of your finite-ness on earth? Typically, you hear those who are near death due to age or diagnosis say that if they knew life was going to be this short, they would have lived differently.
There is a great song written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols in 2004 titled “Live like you were dying.” In it, they express the thoughts of a man who just got the call from the doctor that he may be facing death much more quickly than he expected. A friend asks him what that knowledge. The rest of the song expresses how he started doing the things that were important in life, treating his family with the love they needed, being the husband, son, father, and friend that he was neglecting to be before the diagnosis. And he did those things in life that he had put off before that were more about living than anything he was doing when he thought he had more time. We should all take time to reflect on how we are living considering what we want to leave behind.
We have experienced the loss of many great and cherished loved ones on the Qualla Boundary. Many of us feel like there has been an unusually high number of our people leaving us, and we all feel like they leave us too soon.
As much as possible, we should make our passing an event of ease for our loved ones. They will be mourning our loss and dealing with emotions like none they felt before. We can do our part while we are still able. For tribal members, there is a ready and available legal assistance to get you started on any documents like wills and living wills that will help your loved ones cope with your loss. Most funeral homes will help you with details like plot purchases and service plans. I know. This is not a subject we enjoy discussing with anyone, especially family. But discuss it. And while you are at it, tell, show them, how you feel about them, for we are only here for a little while (hat tip to Wiseman and Nichols).