Cemeteries have been some of my favorite places. Many dates I took with my then future wife were in cemeteries. I didn’t know that was odd until Cathie shared her sister Barb’s quip before one of our dates, “What cemetery is he taking you to today?”
I appreciate cemeteries for two reasons. First, they tend to be lovely places, park like, with mown grass, lots of trees, sometimes ponds—quiet and lovely. Second, I’ve always felt I was among friends, especially in my hometown cemetery where so many markers are engraved with family names I grew up with: Burgharts and Deghands, Walkers and Cassidys. These days when Cathie and I are in the vicinity of those final resting places I’ll say, “Let’s go say hello to our friends,” and we slowly drive through the narrow lanes, citing one name after another; some names being the parents of this friend or that one, others the names of former class mates, school chums.
Strolls through cemeteries offer small windows into the lives of so many who have walked this earth before us. Their names, birth and death dates, and epitaphs act as reminders to fellow travelers in time of not only those former, brief lives, but of our own mortality. Some memorable epitaphs have spoken of being “asleep in Jesus” or stated simply “she did what she could”; others show the effect of some tragedy or disease, with death dates of multiple family members being separated by only days or weeks.
Solomon praised reflections on the end of life:
It is better to go to the house of mourningEcclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Contemplating those who’ve gone before us, realizing they were just like us in their own day, but now are gone from our world, gives wisdom for us the living. One day our bodies, like theirs, will be laid in the ground and our spirits will return to God who gave them.
Will it be the Coronavirus that lays us in the dust? Or some accident? Will we diminish slowly with age, slipping out of this life like a leaf in fall drifting to earth? Will it be tomorrow, or next week, or twenty years from now? Only God knows. But thinking on our mortality certainly helps us take our own end to heart.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,Edmund Vance Cook’s poem “How Did You Die?”
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
Great question that—how did you die? How will we die? Or better, how are we living? It’s how we live that determines how we die.
When loved ones determine our epitaph, what will they think of? What are the distinguishing marks of our life? What rises to the top of memories when those who knew us well, and loved us, think to record this last, endearing reminder of our life?
What do you believe? What defines you, makes you, you? On what foundation are you building your life? How are you living life now and how does your current living prepare you for your eventual dying?
Friend, how will you die?
We were made for eternity, and it’s into eternity we slip when soul leaves body. Jesus said,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25–26 (ESV)
As a guide to living or dying those are the best of words—the dying live, and the living never die. Do you believe this?