Until recently, I was always terrified of death. I used to call it “the idea of death” as if death was something I could choose. Like choosing extra butter on my popcorn at the movies. In case you didn’t know, you don’t actually get to choose to live or die. And if you regularly eat extra-buttered popcorn, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.
Death is an uncomfortable subject for a lot of people, myself included. At the height of my own fear of death, I had no faith in my life and no relationship with God, which is kind of a problem considering the whole point of the Christian life is to get to heaven after we die to be with the God I thought nothing of.
The fear of the unknown gets to us all in one way or another whether it’s a phobia, losing a loved one, or not knowing what really is in your basement after you shut the lights off and scream up the stairs like a runaway freight train (I still do this).
While I know no one can be sure what really happens after we die, I wanted to know more about what is known, or rather, understood. When will we be judged? How do we go to heaven or hell? Can we do our purgatory sentence time here on Earth? Perhaps in line at the post office? Purgatory cannot possibly be as long or as painful as a technician support phone call with the cable company.
My wonderings led me to the book “The Four Last Things” by Father Wade Menezes, CPM, which explains what happens when you cash in those chips like The Gambler who knew that every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep. Father Menezes explains the final judgment, what hell is like, what purgatory is and how we can avoid it, and finally, what to expect if we make it into Heaven. It’s heavy stuff, but never once did it make me uncomfortable. In fact, it was reassuring. Because as long as I’m alive, I have the power to choose my path.
Preparing for death is like preparing for a test. The only way you’ll fail is if you choose not to do the work required to be ready for it. I know that my final destination depends on my own choices and actions, and this makes death less scary since I’m in control of how I choose to live and what I choose to do with whatever time I have in this life.
In order to live the way God intends me to, I have to remind myself to let go of my pride and selfishness. I have to go to Confession regularly to keep on top of those sins that grow faster than my kids grow out of a new pair of shoes. I have to remember what really matters in life and what doesn’t.
So yeah, these days I’m not as afraid of death. The only way I go to hell is if I fail to do the required work. My life is much fuller and more joyful knowing there’s a purpose to it all, and I can only imagine what it would feel like to have a heart ready and a mind clear enough to be excited to meet my maker and see the world he created just for us. What a privilege and what a gift we’ve all been given. I wish I’d known this much earlier in my life, but thankfully I was given enough moments to learn about it all and course-correct.