I will never forget the grace with which my grandfather died. He had been struggling on and off for many years until he came to the point that he decided not to pursue extraordinary treatment for his lung cancer. After he made the decision, he spent some time talking with each of his children one by one, and then he was returned home where he died soon after.
What was most powerful about his death was his ability to let go. He had lived a full life, and his life took its course with a certain naturalness and finality. He did not hide from suffering or pain, but rather patiently underwent his final journey with the resignation of someone who was not attached to this world. The truth is that we are not going to live forever and our attachments to this world do not help the situation.
The art of dying is a science built upon a consistent practice of self-forgetting. In a certain sense, we die many times before we come to our final journey, and these deaths are patterned on our ability to live out our vocation as Christians. Through God’s grace, we are able to let go of the layers of attachments that keep us from living out the communion offered through Jesus Christ. At the heart of prayer is the willingness to die to self.
As we practice this art over and over again, our lives become more meaningful and fulfilling. The paradox of this life is that we only discover true happiness when we are willing to forsake comforts and egocentricity for the sake of God’s kingdom. True happiness is a quality of our relationship with God that endures on the good days and the bad, in moments of peace and in the midst of conflict. In all things, when we discover Jesus Christ, we find a treasure beyond anything the world has to offer.
The art of dying is about letting go of everything that keeps us from Christ, and ultimately everything in this world keeps us from Christ when we make it our focus. So we should not be afraid of embracing the art of dying. In this way, we will soon discover that the more we embrace our death, the more we learn to truly live.