Despite the recent high temperatures, we are indeed in the season of autumn and evidence of it is all around. The leaves are changing color and falling off the trees, the darkness is coming just a bit earlier each day, and a cooler autumn breeze can be felt after the sun goes down. All of life—animals, plants, trees, insects, birds–are experiencing the change, too. Many are preparing for the colder winter months to come, storing up food, growing a winter coat, or fattening up for hibernation. Fall is a glorious time—of endings and new beginnings, of slowing down, of preparation, of both death and the hope of new life. It is at this time each year that we, at UMB, spend some time considering the sometimes challenging, and always transformative, topic of death and dying.
As I mentioned in last Sunday’s announcements, each year I choose a book that I feel may help us navigate this difficult topic. This year I have chosen A Year to Live: How to Live this Year as if It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine, and I will be drawing from the wisdom of this text as I prepare the next three Sunday lessons. It is not necessary to purchase the book, but you can if you are interested in going deeper into the topic of death. This book recounts an experiment where the author spent a year living as if it were the last year of his life, and helps us see how an awareness of our own mortality can spur us to get busy living—taking care of those things we have put off and living each day to the fullest.
As we move into this seasonal theme of death, I invite you to consider a few questions to get in the right frame of mind to approach this topic. Spending some time pondering these questions will get you thinking about your feelings about death, the questions or concerns you may have, and even possibly your fear or anxiety around death. This will prime you to get as much as possible out of our study of death this year. So ask yourself:
Have I thought much about the inevitability of my own death?
Have I considered what I might like my own death to be like?
Are there personal or legal arrangements I need to make to prepare for my own death (e.g. estate planning, advanced care directive)?
Do I fear death? What about it scares me?
If I knew I had only one year to live, what would I do? How would I live? What experiences would I want to have? What would I let go of? What unfinished business would I take care of?
These are big questions and will undoubtedly provoke much thought and may even be unsettling for some. I urge you to mindfully care for yourself as you consider these things by seeking support as needed and having deep compassion for yourself and the feelings that may emerge. Death can be a challenging topic to address. That’s why at UMB we approach it together, as a loving, supportive community. Death is a reality that we all share and exploring it as a topic of study offers us an opportunity to be deeply supportive and compassionate of one another as we share our common feelings, anxieties, concerns, fears, and grief.
As always, our exploration of death culminates with our Day of the Dead Remembrance/Candle lighting Service and Potluck on Sunday October 29. The color, vibrancy, and playfulness of this Mexican tradition can help us to approach death with a bit more levity and perhaps a new perspective. Then, after the service, we will break bread together so that we can continue the sharing and support one another in this common experience of being human.