Death and Dying

This morning I woke to emails from two dear friends on different sides of the country. Each were orphaned yesterday with the passing of their one remaining parent, and I feel the weight of their sadness because they are my friends.

I also feel keenly my own billowing sadness as I watch my parents age.  I know, in a way I didn’t use to, that their passing is inevitable, each in their own turn and in their own way.  I’m not ready.

Dying is such a mystery. It makes me tremble just a bit. Not so much from fear, but from the enormity of it. Ultimately, I feel in my bones that we are born of Love –  and to Love we will return. I somehow can’t stop believing that God is, in some way that we can only begin to fathom, a relational wholeness, a bright communion, an astonishing, unrestrained mutuality. Life is simply a going out from, and a free returning to that Love who is our truest home. Therefore, all of life is a pilgrimage, and the dying part is no more,  or less, an integral part of that journey than our birth is (if only we have the eyes to see it.)

Death, however, is a different thing. Death is the brokeness and alienation we live with our whole lives. Death is our daily reality. We know it in our own selfishness and our petty disputes. We know it in those inordinate desires that keep us tethered to institutions and ideologies that harm others and harm creation.  We know it in our damaged and damaging relationships. We know it in our resentments and our wars. Death has a particular smell to it that dying doesn’t.

For example, this morning I also woke to the news that 800,000 Americans don’t have a job to go to because of the irreconcilability of ruthless ideologues (both sides).  This has the distinct smell of death to it. It smells of alienation, mistrust, powerlust, self-aggrandizement. And people suffer.

In the wee hours of this morning, the weight of it all seemed unusualy heavy. And tears fell. But not so much at the passing of Glen’s dad, or David’s mom. Their lives were fecund and bore the evidence of the home they now know so profoundly. They’ve been freed from death.

My tears fall for the rest of us. I’m so deeply sorry for the death that we seem so eager to participate in.

Jesus’ words ring out, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

I would inlcude myself in the “them.”


Please note that I haven’t offered an opinion about details of the current impass in the US – that’s not what this entry is about and I won’t approve comments that attempt to hijack the blog.

25 thoughts on “Death and Dying

  1. We all likely think about death differently and at different times but those thoughts are focused by life changing events (not necessarily our own) aren’t they.

    My circumstances have me pondering the inevitable end which is hopefully still a long way off. What I really wonder is it would be healthier for us to ponder the inevitable more regularly for two reasons. Firstly to be more prepared and secondly to spend more time focusing on doing what we’re supposed to be doing …… Enjoying this grand world and living an abundant life.

  2. Steve,

    some profound words this morning and I can feel the same sorrow today that I hear in your words. Such a hard world we live in and it’s even tougher when we realize that we make it uglier with our refusal to listen to His words and will for our lives.

    I long for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. When “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”.

    I am definitely a “them” with you.

  3. Somewhere scripture talks about our “coming in,” and our “going out.”. This takes on more significance as I age and realize how both are processes, and how inexorably one transitions into the other. A pilgrimage indeed.

  4. Steve, several years ago, I accompanied a close friend to the morgue of our local hospital to say good-bye to her sister, who had died in a horrific car accident just hours before. I expected it to be heart-breaking and difficult, and it was. My friend was broken and her wails of pain cut through me like shards of ragged glass.

    As I looked into the face on the gurney, she was so beautiful in life that her beauty remained in death, but for a gash in her forehead and the bits of dirt and mud in her hair. I was broken, and wept, and then, unexpectedly, I horrified and deeply disturbed.

    I felt, deep in my spirit, as I looked at what death had done, I felt that this should not be. Death is what should not be, what should never have happened, what was never meant to happen, an aberration to the Life and Love that is God. And I saw the enemy’s victory in the dead face in front of me. It stung and burned and hurt me. I felt the futility of it all, the loss so profound, of all that was meant to live forever.

    When I tried to share this with others in my church, the reaction was unanimous. I was never allowed to finish, no one could hear the thought that death was a victory for the enemy, for fear that I was dismissing Christ’s victory on the cross. What I actually felt and wanted to share was that this experience gave me a deep, overwhelming gratitude and joy at Christ’s victory. People continued to react negatively, quick to question and correct my theology, so I stopped telling the story. But it was real, and is real to me.

    Maybe I wasn’t expressing it well enough. I know that when I began to see what death had done, what it was, what we have lost because of our sin, Christ’s love and compassion and power became so huge to me that I was struck dumb. It is simply too big for me. I can just live and walk in it, and love Him for it, and follow Him wherever He leads.

    Sometimes, this experience makes me think of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. Weeping. He knew Lazarus was about to be resurrected. He knew that the mourners would soon laugh in joy. But death had touched His friend. Death. That which should not be.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this, Steve. Your words speak Christ’s Life and Light into the darkness.

    Blessings, Kelly

  5. I was listening to the song “Timshel” by Mumford & Sons yesterday, there’s a phrase in that song:

    “And death is at your doorstep
    And it will steal your innocence
    But it will not steal your substance”

    I hope that my (our) faith is such that it’s substance is not shaken, even though it’s innocence is gone.
    In His Grip.

  6. ‘Death is such a mystery’…. I fully agree. This comes on the one month observation of my own father passing away. I have never seen someone die. If I had to witness one then this was the one to see, he just simply stopped breathing each breath prior we were certain was the last but he would take another shuddering one, he never struggled never rallied after his ice cream for his birthday just at midnight on his birthday….We flew up and we were the only ones that stayed all the rest went to their beds, I had a knowing I was suppose to stay. Dawn woke the city slowly as he walked out of it surprisingly fast.
    I can only pray for others who are struggling with the loss of a parent, I have some empathy, but my father and I were of different clothes..yet he was the provider of some of my genetic makeup, and we are told to honor our parents. I pray when all is said and done, I can honor a difficult life.
    This was a timely piece for me and my head space so thank You Steve for sharing.

  7. Steve, thank you for your words that you have shared. I recently lost an old friend. Her passing brought such a surprisingly, emotional reaction to me. For a while, I didn’t understand why. Then I realized that I was not only feeling the loss of my old friend but the loss of things that use to be our way of life, the loss of a time gone by. The good old days as we refer to them. When I grew up with my daddy, momma and my siblings, it was such a good time to be raised…..we were poor in a monetary sense but we were rich in the things, like love, respect, honor, integrity, etc. I knew my friend during the old days. Our kids went to school together. They grew up together and she & I were in Mother’s club (PTA) together. Times are different now……I pray that some how we can turn things around and bring Our God back into our lives, in the things that really matter. Our life here on this earth is short and actually we are only passing through…..what will our legacy be? This is sort of a “trial run” for us, so we’d better put forth our best effort. Blessings to you and yours!! Keep praying for our nation and our leaders!! May they make the right decisions for the people.

  8. Steve, thank you…I woke up this morning feeling such an emptiness as I lost my last remaining parent – my Mother – just a week ago. She was not only my mother but a dear friend. While she raised me to have a strong faith, these last weeks and months as I watched her lose independence, health and all those things that made her such an example of strength, left me shaken to the core. The reassurance and reminder that this part of our journey and our story is only a glimpse of what is yet to be… during those days and nights in the hospital, I had to wonder — what if we all lived our relationships with the knowledge that the next breath of that loved one could be their last?! How would we treat them? How would we want that “last breath” to be the precious memory of our time with them… may God give us strength to live every moment to its fullest…

  9. Kelly, I am so sorry that your true feelings were dismissed so rapidly in your church; that shouldn’t have happened to you… I have also thought often of the Lazarus story and the reality of death and loss… the fact is that Christ did come 4 days later than was expected… He didn’t dismiss Mary or Martha when they questioned Him, and you shouldn’t have been dismissed as well… may God help all those who call themselves disciples of Christ to pause, be quiet and allow people to feel and express their pain and their journey as they need to — as part of His Big Story!

  10. I was orphaned at age 33 with my Mom’s passing. It was a very sad three years watching this woman who was my best friend and my Mom wither away slowly. But in death, as you have pointed out Steve, there IS blessing and in our case, blessing in the journey to get there. Even today, almost 10 years later, I still look back at that time with an odd fondness for the memories that I recall at will, memories of laughing at every possible opportunity, memories of reassurance both from me and from my Mom and memories of how dark and how beautiful such a passage can be. For that, I will always be grateful.

  11. Marilyn, I am so sorry. I was the closest of friends with my Mom too. I promise you, however, that the emptiness fills with memories and blessings over the course of time.

  12. Hi Steve. I woke up this morning and didn’t get an email from friends but noticed on my facebook wall a Steve Bell-suggested post. Not even sure how those get on there and I usually don’t read them. I scrolled past yours and then scrolled back again because of the beautiful picture I saw. Then I saw the heading underneath on death and dying and changed my mind and began to scroll down again only to scroll back and read what you had to say.
    I have a hugely busy day today and would love to comment on a LOT of what you said but time doesn’t permit right now.
    I would be in such error though not to comment on one very important thing and that is your comment and song “Gone is the Light”.
    I’ve got great news….the Light is NOT gone!! Jesus is alive and living today!!! Yes, we live in a dark world but is our
    on that darkness or the Light that He Is? He changes the darkness into light and gives meaning to life and even death. So to say that there is no light is to say that He is not here but oh….do I KNOW that He is 🙂 He’s the One that gives meaning and light in the darkness and He’s the reason we can joyfully live now and for eternity. He’s the reason I can cross every hurdle in life with strength and confidence because I’m not jumping hurdles blindly in the dark but I’m soaring over them in the light because He is My Light….and He is NOT gone, He’s here…right now…..and forever 🙂
    Jesus’ words “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” refers to the Jesus dying on the cross…for us all…so that we could have LIFE now and forever. He is the Light of Life and He already IS living with the Father in His kingdom and His kingdom is here….and now….that’s why we can live in the light…NOW.
    🙂 I smile because He didn’t just die for us, but He arose to life so that we could have life right now in His earthly kingdom. Death, for those who believe what Jesus did for them, is eternal life in His eternal kingdom…forever with Him.
    Man…gives ya reason to be thankful and enjoy life and be comforted and strengthened through the trials and the whole nine yards because His death on the cross made that all possible.
    Sheesh…who wouldn’t want that!!!! 🙂
    BTW….I have not heard you sing before but I really like the sound of your voice and the instrumental accompaniment that I presume is you as well. 🙂

  13. Steve,
    Thank you for sharing this blog with us. As I turn 73 this week, you can imagine I have lost many dear ones in my life; my father, 27 years ago and my mother, 9 years ago. Both were very dear to me. I also lost one of our pastor’s wife when she was just 30 and with 4 children under 8. Sad yes, however all 3 of these people were ready spiritually for their home going to meet their Saviour.
    Sadly, many are not ready and so for them death is even a heavier cross to bare.
    It is our sins that put Christ on the cross but praise God is rose triumphant over the grave and now lives within those who will accept Him.
    Then and only then do we find true peace and happiness even in the midst of the mess this world is in.

  14. Hi Steve,
    Not so long ago, when you were in upstate NY, I shared that we used your recording of “The Lord’s Prayer” as a part of my precious dad’s funeral. You told me that your mom wrote that lovely arrangement. Our Lord’s words rendered so beautifully through your mom’s musical gifts and in your sensitively powerful voice were and continue to be a profound blessing to me.
    My sharing this will not ease the pain in your heart, but may you be blessed knowing of your mom’s gift to me when I had to say “good-bye for now” to my dad whom I adored.

  15. Hi Steve, just read the blog and for me lately it’s been a lot about acceptance. You can know all the right answers and ways to feel but accepting is humbling. We have lost 3 parent in the past 3 years and many friends and relatives as well. People we have cared for and miss it is very difficult and still trying to process and accept. I will pray for you as you go through all those emotions and thoughts, we seem to have many. Your song I think the title is Billys wake, helped me keep going, there is more work to be done. Many of your songs keep me strong on the Journey as probably Malcom and Bruce have kept you going. God know exactly what brings you peace. God’s blessings to you! (p.s) the evening we saw you, that morning to my 92 yr old mom for coffee with a seniors group and heard about the song writer of amazing grace. Quite and Epic story as we all share in Christ!

  16. Life is a gift. Death is just the beginning of a new and better life, in the glorious presence of our Lord. I live with the ever-dominating reality that every moment we live and breath is a gift. Every day spent in the company of family and friends should be cherished. On July 19th of this year my two daughters, ages 8 and 11, were sitting momentarily beside a stack of round bales, when one mysteriously fell, trapping my 11 year old and taking the life of my 8 year old. The enormity of this loss to our family is indescribable. Were it not for the closeness of God to the broken-hearted, the truth that God is too wise to make a mistake and too loving to be unkind, and the sure knowledge that we will be reunited one day, our entire family, in heaven… I am sure my soul would die.
    It was so sudden. So unexpected. It should not have happened. A distance of 2 feet saved my one daughter’s life and crushed my other daughter. Now I am left, with so little knowledge, and so few tools, to bring comfort to my traumatized daughter, and my two sons, ages 13 and 4. My husband is amazing, but broken. We have so many questions and so few answers.
    I cling to God’s Word. The Psalms have opened up with new meaning to me. I cling to Him and experience, daily, the peace that passes understanding. I am NUMB. Do I feel anything anymore? I am lonely. Where are my friends? Are they afraid to call or visit? Why is it strangers who reach out? Where is the church at a time like this? It is a desperate and terrible place in which I find myself. My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation comes from Him. I am disillusioned with people, but God is turning up everywhere for me. People are letting me down. They do not understand. They cannot understand. But God does. He lost a Son too. My daughter did not suffer… His Son did. I had no choice in this, God did. What love! I cling…. I trust that one day in heaven we will have some answers to the desperate difficult questions. Maybe, on that glorious day, the questions will not matter anymore. I cling…. and find His Hand is there to hold and comfort and protect. He is here, in my pain.

  17. Thankyou Steve for writing this ..
    I have had to deal with death a few times in my life . My best friend passed away 16 yrs ago with ALS . Her death was extemely hard for all around her as she was am amazing women . The day she passed i watched in amazment at gods work . She had great faith and until her last breath she loved him deaply .
    My father passed away almost 20 yrs ago in an accident and this became the beginning of a real bind among the 6 children that lost him and lost thier way .
    Almost 5 yrs ago i lost my partner . This has become my road back to faith . As much as his death was overwhelmingly painfull and the feeling of being lost almost tore me apart , the joy of being brought back to my faith has been a tower of strength for me.. I personally look at every day as a blessing from god that i am still here and so many great people in my life have passed on to him ..
    Life i good and god is great …
    Steve your music is wonderful !! keep up the great work ..

  18. Thank you Steve for sharing your thoughtfulness. I knew I had to read it and have let it “interrupt” my morning, even to respond. You played in Ponoka last October, the evening before my Dad’s funeral. I told you we were using your and Sarah’s version of I’ll Fly Away during the Power Point of my Dad’s life. God used that song in a powerful way to comfort us just after Dad died. I have so many treasures to hold and keep from the last year of his life, including his returning to the Lord after having turned away for 66 years! Still, the loss is ever poignant, especially this season of Autumn… everything reminds me of that “cold October morning”, Oct 12th, when he relinquished his life to his worthy escort and crossed that river, so to speak. Just yesterday I sent all of my children (4 plus spouses) a link to Diana Pop’s song from your Sons and Daughters CD, Subtle Shiver, to honour this anniversary week of the loss of our Dad and Grandpa. We watched my Mom struggle for her life on a harrowing roller coaster ride this past spring,having no less than 6 heart failures, but God kept “bringing her back” to be with us a little longer. Such a huge spiritual journey it’s been. It’s a very bittersweet, deep, epic journey indeed as we grapple with how to live and how to die, to the extent that we are allowed to participate (especially in the latter).
    Thanks again Steve. Your music and your kind insightfulness is a GIFT to so many. Bless you as you love your family, particularly your parents during this season. I trust the Holy Spirit will be your constant, comforting companion. : )

  19. I remember the tears streaming down my face as we stood in church and sang the words ‘He gives and takes away’ after the sudden passing of my brother. That was almost 10 years ago. It was so difficult for me, and my family as we did not get a chance to say good-bye. It has been one year since my dad passed away at the age of 82 with his family at his bedside. We were there to ‘hold his hand’, my mom and my siblings. Even though I knew this time was coming and I was able to spend more time than usual with my dad during his last year of life, this was still difficult for me. I miss my dad. Funny how a grown woman can pine for the presence of her earthly father. This has made me realize how truly wonderful it will be to be in the full presence of our Heavenly Father.
    I have a wise husband. (I call him my ‘wise old guy’.) He shared an analogy that he had heard about life and death that related to a television series. We can watch season one of a series and experience the joys, anxieties and sorrows of the characters but recognize that this is not the end as there is a season two or three or more to watch. That’s the hope we have in Christ Jesus. This life on Earth may have several seasons in which we will experience joys and sorrows, but the best season will be the final season with God in Heaven. This promised time (unlike our favourite shows) will never be cancelled on us.
    What makes life more bearable here on Earth for us during these difficult times? For me it is someone to ‘hold my hand’. Realizing that I am not alone. God desires for His light to shine through us to others. That they may see ‘Jesus’ through us. That we will be there to ‘hold the hand of others’ as they go through their difficult times. Our presence (through His guidance), for His Name’s Sake. (Psalm 23:3)

  20. Thank you, Steve, for this timely sharing of Life, Death and Dying.

    We are in the Season of Dying as we watch the majesty of Autumn succumb once more to her earthly death (and she does it with such grace and gentleness). As I did the usual chores outside today of readying myself for the inevitable Wintertime, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Beauty of that which Winter brings (not the kind of Death you speak about in your blog) and the Joy of Rebirth in the Spring. So much harder to relate that particular promise to God’s promise for our Souls, as I peak out a little beyond my own current Season of Life and see a glimpse of my ultimate Winter journey closer than I’d like it to be. The only thing I hang onto to give me hope, is the promise of Rebirth enveloped in the Love that is the one Supreme Love Source in God. And I watch sadly, how all to often, I forget this and observe how fear and uncertainty move in all too swiftly! Lucky for me, I also have the gentle reminder of my mother’s face as she lay dying at age 79 a year ago and the peace with which she left us: a bit more concrete evidence of that promise. I kept whispering in her ear as she lay there, how she was going to this incredibly beautiful “place” where pain (her greatest fear; interestingly, it wasn’t “dying”), sadness and the suffering that can sometimes mire us here on earth and especially when we lose a loved one, would not be present. I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that these words were TRUTH. I equally marvel at how that certainty often vanishes, replaced by an all-too-familiar companion called fear. I miss my mom, my late husband and my dear friend who died suddenly this past summer, especially now, as Thanksgiving and treasured time for family and friends is upon us. Indeed, the sadness has been a rather constant companion this past week or so. However, after reading your message, and the messages of several others, I am reminded that LOVE and the LOVE of GOD never dies and especially in Death. I shall sit with this and let that TRUTH engulf me as I thank GOD for the gifts of our loved ones. Blessings to you and to all in this time of Remembrance and Thanksgiving and most of all, LOVE!

  21. Vangie,
    My heart is breaking for you. Thank you for sharing your heart and pain. I am so sorry that people are letting you down. I wish I could help. It is odd that at a time like this it is strangers who bring comfort… God provides comfort in unexpected ways.
    While I cannot begin to understand the depth of your loss, I think I “know” someone who could… I risk offering you her story. Perhaps you know of it. I was blessed to read Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” this year, and I encourage you to read it ~ when you’re ready. Ann is a Canadian Mennonite farmer’s wife and mother of 6, who suffered the debilitating loss of a young child on a farm early in her life, as well as walking alongside a brother and sister-in-law whose two babies died. Ann’s book is her journey from numbness, to joy. It is beautiful, a little quirky and very poetic in its style, not a typical read … but incredibly powerful, honest, real, and rich; I believe her words are anointed (as I believe your’s also are).
    I will pray for you and your family Vangie. I promise.
    Your sister in Christ,

  22. Dear Joy,
    I cannot sing “He gives and takes away” yet without tears, as my Dad passed away a year ago too. I pine for him also. I so get what you’re saying.
    A very interesting song which helps me, is one of Carolyn Arends’ called “We’ve Been Waiting For You”. Carolyn’s lyrics describe two distinct but similar transitions / journeys we each have to make: from our mother’s womb into this world, and then from this world to eternity. We really can’t comprehend any more than an unborn infant can, what life lies ahead… but it does! We have so many good promises to hold onto as we grieve and receive peace as well.

  23. Dear Margo,
    Thank you for caring. Indeed Ann Voskamp is anointed in her writing style and particularly the work of healing the Lord has brought about in her life through thanksgiving. God allowed me and my entire extended family to read through One Thousand Gifts in the year prior to Abigail’s death. This was one of the many ways God prepared my heart for this horrible journey of grief. I am finding that, although difficult, choosing gratitude in the midst of intense pain lifts my eyes from my circumstances to God. I will only survive this as I keep my eyes on Him.

  24. Steve, your words are moving and wise. It’s true that dying is a hard journey, for both the traveler and the observers. But we have hope, and we know that we do not walk alone through the valley of the shadow. His rod and his staff will comfort us, and we will live forever with the Great Shepherd of love.
    But the death that we inflict on the world every day, through our selfishness, our sense of entitlement, our ignorance and hard hearts … if we really dwell on that, we could become totally overwhelmed. Is there no hope?
    I read a book recently — Crow Planet by Lyanda Haupt, a birder and sensitive environmentalist — that asks that question. We could give in to despair, or we can choose to be part of the restoration of God’s love spreading out throughout the world. We don’t know how it will end, but God knows. In the meantime, we do what we can to bring hope to the world. Your music ministry does that for me — each concert I go to reminds me that each of us can be used by our Creator, letting our lights shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine.
    Many blessings to you.

  25. I was profoundly saddened with the death of our friend Priest Ian Peterson. He fought so hard and suffered greatly and was too young. He was a great caring person that had so much to give.
    I say our friend because I saw you and Nancy at his funeral.
    Sometimes life is unfair.

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