Death’s Devastating Effect

“SIX-YEAR-OLD COMMITS SUICIDE.” This shocking headline referred to the tragic death of a little girl named Jackie. Her mother had recently died of a terminal illness. Before Jackie stepped in front of a train, she told her siblings that she wanted ‘to become an angel and be with her mother.’

Ian was 18 when he pleaded with his priest to explain why Ian’s father had died of cancer. The priest claimed that since Ian’s father was a good man, God wanted him in heaven. After hearing that explanation, Ian concluded that he did not want to know such a cruel God. Since life appeared to be so meaningless, Ian decided to pursue a life of pleasure. To that end, he turned to alcohol, drugs, and immorality. His life was spinning out of control.

“The Living Are Conscious That They Will Die”

These two distressing incidents illustrate how death can devastate people’s lives, especially if it strikes unexpectedly. Admittedly, all are aware of this fact stated in the Bible: “The living are conscious that they will die.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) But many prefer to ignore that harsh reality. What about you? Life makes so many demands on our time and attention that we may push to the back of our minds the seemingly distant prospect of death.

“Most people fear death and try to avoid thinking about it,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia. Nevertheless, a serious accident or a life-threatening illness may suddenly force us to look death in the face. Or perhaps the funeral of a friend or a relative provides us with a harsh reminder of the outcome that awaits all mankind.

Still, at funerals mourners often say something like, “Life must go on.” And indeed it does. In fact, life may seem to pass by so quickly that all too soon the problems of old age must be faced. At that point, death is no longer such a remote prospect. There are too many funerals to attend, the loss of too many lifelong friends to endure. For many of the elderly, the disturbing question, “When will it be me?” often dominates.

The Great Question Mark

Although nobody denies the certainty of death, what occurs after death can be like a great question mark. The many contradictory explanations may lead the skeptic to see the whole matter as a futile debate about the unknown. The pragmatist may conclude that since “you live only once,” you should enjoy the good things of life as best you can.

In contrast, others refuse to believe that death is the end of everything. Nevertheless,  they have no clear idea about what comes afterward. Some assume that life will continue in a place of eternal bliss, while others think that they will live again at some future time, perhaps as a different person.

Bereaved relatives invariably ask themselves, “Where are the dead?” Several years ago, members of a football club were en route to a sporting event when a truck suddenly plowed into their minibus, sending the bus cartwheeling off the road. Five members of the team died. Since the day her son was killed in that accident, the life of one mother has almost come to a halt. She grapples with the issue of where her son is. She regularly visits his grave and talks to him out loud for hours. “I just can’t believe that there is nothing after death,” she laments, “but I am not sure.”

Clearly, our attitude toward death can affect our lives now. In view of people’s reactions to the tragedy of death, several questions arise. Consider how you would respond to them. Should we just forget about death and concentrate on living? Should we allow the menacing presence of death to spoil our life? Must a grieving relative be forever left to ponder the whereabouts of a dead loved one? Must death remain an enigma?