One morning near the end, she awoke, slowly took in the room, and then said disgustedly, “Oh hell! Am I still here?” It’s standard practice in remembering the dead to omit or to sanitize the details of death — to insulate ourselves from the nature of death, to make death a natural and comfortable friend.
Here’s how my grandmother died: she fell. Then she had a stroke. Her brain hemorrhaged. She stopped eating. Despite heavy sedation, she died in great physical anguish yet with complete spiritual peace and even, she said, great excitement — to see Jesus and her husband my grandfather, and her grandson my cousin, and other family and friends who had passed before.
Courage and Death
You might say that Grandma conquered death. She was not overcome by fear of the unknown, and despite physical agony she was never brought to despair. Grandma’s courage at the end comforted our family, but it is not enough to defeat death. The manner of her passing reveals the depth of her faith and character, but her dignity did not defeat death.
As the psalmist grimly and correctly observes, “even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.”
Nothing Grandma did and nothing we do could overcome death. She faced death — and death took her.
Her dignity and legacy, powerless as they may be on their own, point to and make real Christ’s triumph over death. Her courage flowed out of Christ’s own resurrection, and it points forward to the promise we have of the future resurrection of all God’s children.
These Do Not Reverse the Curse
The passing down of Grandma’s name, the memories her children and grandchildren have of her, the stories we will tell her great-grandchildren — these do not reverse the curse of death, but they do remind us that she is part of what the author of Hebrews called “a great cloud of witnesses.”
She is now “unclothed” of her body, as St. Paul puts it, but present with Christ. My grandmother’s tired, worn out, battered, emptied, and hemorrhaged body will — “in a flash, at a trumpet crash” — all at once be as Christ is. Her speech — garbled by stroke, silenced in death — will be changed to a pure speech of praise.
Mark Perkins teaches history at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a postulant in the Anglican Province of America at All Saints Anglican Church and a student at Trinity School for Ministry. “Oh Hell, Am I Still Here?” is an edited version of part of an article originally published on The Imaginative Conservative. Another part appeared as “You’re Not Pregnant, Right?”.