When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? — Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)
As I walk in my journey of life, I get to ask myself the question whether I am prepared to die and how well I want to face my death. I do not fear dying but I if I had a choice for when to die I would choose to have it wait until I over 70. I have a reason for my case: I am the first born from a large African family and I would like to help them with some of their needs, and I believe that I would like to go back to Kenya to continue with the work of an orphanage that I founded in 1994. I pray daily that God would give me many more years and that He would protect my family from any danger.
Over the years, I have seen death touch many people close to me. At the age of 5, I lost my grandfather, it hurt me to know that I had to grow up without a grandpa. Then in 1988 I lost my baby sister. In 1994, I lost a very close friend, who had been very dear to me. Her death left me numb and angry, I still feel that I did not get enough time to grief her illness. In the same year another woman from my village, who had mental illness and I had been her caregiver suddenly died.
With all these losses, I have learn that though it is my desire to live longer I know that the reality of life is that death is an inevitable part of life and it is as real as life itself, it can occur any time without a warning. With these in mind I prepare myself everyday to meet it. I do not long for it to come but I feel at peace with it when it comes. My beliefs on how to face death are attributed to my Christian and African traditions. As an African, death is a separation and not annihilation; the dead person is suddenly cut off from the human society and yet the corporate group clings to him. This is shown through the elaborate funeral rites, as well as other methods of keeping in contact with the departed”. The relatives of the dead believe that even though the soul of their dead relative has gone up to the sky or near to God, it remains also near to them and can be approached through prayers, libations, and offerings. And as a Christian death is a beautiful and eternal union with God, it is my final home in Heaven where time is no more. This perspective help me to live every day as though it is the last day of my life, and to see death as an only separation of the soul and the body, from each other but not a total loss of life.
Perhaps, the most difficulty thing for a young person of my age to do is to write a will. This in it explains that I have not done one yet. If I had wealth and if I knew that I am dying I would write one. Writing a will is very important because many of the things that need to be done have already been handled at a much less stressful time. Having a living allows my family to make decisions based upon my wishes. Having an up-to-date will ensures that my possessions will be given to those whom I wish. If I have already discussed with my loved ones–prior to becoming ill–where I wish to be buried, then the difficult decision is made with thought and reflection and before I am confronted with its reality. I my accounts and Life Insurance policy joined with my wife so that if death took either of us there would be no extra stress trying to sort out who would own the estate. I believe it is wise to make sure the papers–life insurance, savings accounts, etc.–are in order and easily located, which will make it much easier for those whose responsibility it is to take care of these matters.
If my death was questionable like in the case where a doctor misdiagnosed I would like to have an autopsy but if it were a natural death I would choose not to. In the case of how I want my body to be disposed I would like to be buried in my village in Kenya. The issue of cremation is very foreign for Africans, we believe in seeing the body before burial. The traditional African burial ceremony is an important preparation for the body’s journey after death. We believe that burying a body give the spirit of the deceased rest and peace. Destroying the body could destroy the human spirit. We bury our dead several feet underground and that is where they should remain. It is taboo for an African to be cremated. We believe in physical and spiritual lives and, if we cremate, resurrection of the dead will be affected. Donating organs is another controversial issue among the Africans. We do not donate organs because we be buried our people whole because we believe that in resurrection they will have their bodies back. Knowing the difficulty to get organ donors I would be willing to donate all internal organs
Funerals in Kenya are seen as a celebration of person’s life. It is my wish would be to be buried in Kenya, it is honored, and I would like to request my community in Kenya to provide traditional and Christian music and dance on my funeral. Unlike the somber atmosphere I experienced at funerals here in the Canada, the funerals in Kenya are colorful, celebration occasions. It is not at all unusual for there to be as many as three groups performing simultaneously at an at a funeral. In case my family cannot transport my body I would like to request my African community in Winnipeg to celebrate my life with music and dance.
If buried in Kenya, my village elders would for the wake keeping and would decide the proper time and place for the various events of a funeral. Members of my family and other members of the community may chose to commission performances on the days leading up to the night of the wake keeping and day of burial. People may also choose to commission a performance as long as a year or two after the actual day of burial. The reason for the tradition is that someone who may not have been able to attend the funeral will want to honor the person somehow when they are able to travel home. I would like stories about to be told by the elders at funerals and in this way history will be passed on by word of mouth. I would like a big feast in my funeral as my tradition belief in celebration of life.
I feel so much gratitude for they have given me so many gifts of loving wisdom and intimate moments of deep understanding. They have especially given me comfort and ease about my own life’s sojourn. I have had the honor to sit with in their last days and moments. Attending to, with individuals who are living with a terminal illness, supporting and consoling their families, are truly a privilege and a blessing for all who are involved in the gentle care of the living/dying experience. As many more individuals choose to die at home in the comfort of their own familiar surroundings, we as family, friends and caregivers have a special opportunity to share intimate moments with our loved one, opening our hearts to our sacred journey. It is a powerful experience to witness a dying person drop all the surface “stuff” and get to the heart of each moment. Meeting another, deep in our hearts and ourselves is the most powerful journey we can take together. We are called to give our gifts, letting the healing in, letting this be our human quest.
Something else that encourages me in my life is the good news of the Gospel which talks about resurrection story — the story of new life breaking through the midst of deep despair — is never finished. The ending is left unwritten because we must do our part. In this story, I am encouraged that we cannot let violence in this world and fear, and even death to silence us! Each spring, as seeds push from the ground, as new life comes from what was dead, we hear the challenging story again and must decide if we will let the violence, death and fear silence us and therefore bury us, or if we will rise again to raise our voices and our actions. Resurrection, not violence, it is not death and of course it is not fear, must have the last word.