Death is the greatest mystery of life. I’ve never given a eulogy where I haven’t been confronted with the strangeness of the end of life and confounded by the mystery of death. One minute a person is alive and the next not. It HAS to be more than a heartbeat that no longer pulses or brain activity that ceases. Life is more than blood flowing through our veins and our marvelous brain doing its thing. Life is more than our physical being – I’m convinced of that. Exactly what that ‘more’ is, I’m unwilling to state without reservation. Some call it ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘being,’ I can accept any of those. All I know is that the person I am is more than bone and tissue and brain waves. There is an ‘essence’ to who I am.
But in a eulogy I always want to address the fear and wonder of dying – dealing with what happens to that spirit/soul/being when the brain waves stop. In my eulogies I have often used an illustration that I think helps a great deal. I call it ‘transitions.’ Here is what I tell people, and it’s no different if it is a eulogy for a wife, a eulogy for a husband, a eulogy for a friend or a eulogy for a grandparent. It’s all the same…
Death is to be viewed only as one of the many transitions of life. ...When we are conceived in our mother’s womb we begin life. And it’s a wonderful life. For nine months we are nourished and cared for. We can hear the voice of our mother and perhaps that of dad. How could life be better than in a cozy womb? But then we are born. When we are born we undergo the first great transition of our lives. It is shocking. We are squeezed through the birth canal, we are pulled into bright light and air and cold air all around us. We begin life crying. We never asked to be born. We LIKED where we were. There was no better life than that one. But within a few minutes the crying stops as we realize how wonderful it is to stretch. We takein oxygen and realize that what we had been breathing in the womb was nothing compared to this. This is wonderful – air and space and light and crystal clear sounds… and a mother’s breast giving us real nourishment… We realize that, as good as where we were was, this transition into this new life is SO much better. We’d never go back…
Then for the next nine or ten months we are literally ‘babied.’ We are carried around by mom or dad. We are cuddled and fed and our diapers are changed. We know life couldn’t be better than this. We haven’t a care in the world.
But our little muscles begin to develop and one day, when we are laying on the floor, we roll over and discover that we can crawl. It seems almost unreal, until those little muscles give out and we bump our nose on the floor and it hurts. We begin to cry. But only for a moment. It dawns on us that this latest transition was to something awesome. We can be mobile and no longer dependent on others to carry us around! As much as we liked the life we had, we realize that this one is so much better. We’d never go back… So over the course of the next few years we learn to walk and run and talk and every one of those transitions came with challenges and were sometimes painful, but our new lives of independence and communication and freedom are so wondrous that we’d never go back…
And so, on into adolescence and through the teen years. There is a lot of pain and crying along the way as we make the successive transitions. Then into adulthood with all its responsibilities and problems. Each transition along the way has been a struggle – often not fun at all – sometimes fearful, not knowing what to expect. But the common denominator of each of the transitions is that we enter into a new life with fear and trembling only to arrive to a life so much better than the previous one that we’d NEVER go back, even if we could…
Death may well be the final transition, but it certainly may be the case that God has been preparing us for this final one from the day we were born, teaching us that change will always come, it is often accompanied by pain and fear and tears, but that in each case what we arrive at is so far superior to what we came from that we would never, ever want to go back.
We don’t know what happens after we die. But isn’t it most likely like the other transitions of our life in so many ways? We don’t know what to expect. We enter with fear and tears into the unknown… But hasn’t experience shown that what comes next is so far superior to what was that we’d never look back or wish for what we had before?
It is imperative that each of us prepare ourselves for that spiritual and inevitable transition... So far, no one who has ever lived has gotten around it...we will not be the exceptions. The best we can do is to understand that we have been prepared for transitions all our lives and the fear and tears are always unfounded because what is coming is unimaginably better.
Steve Schafer is the founder of TheEulogyWriters and is probably the most prolific eulogy writer (and, no doubt, the best) anywhere. He lives in Michigan and has been writing eulogies for well over thirty years. The articles in this blog are designed to help people through the process of losing loved ones.