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Our Friend Death (Part I of II)

November 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Death and Dying, Patti Armstrong

Our Friend Death
Part I of II


As the saying goes: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” But taxes you can avoid and evade; death–not so. Therefore, the only logical response to death is to embrace it…or at least accept it. After all, it’s not like we have a choice.

While traveling back from dropping off a son for college in Oregon a while ago, we attended Mass in Missoula, Montana at St. Francis Xavier Church. During the prayers of intercession, one prayer caught my attention: “For all who have died, for all who are going to die and for all who are afraid to die.”

for post on our friend deathThat last one–all who are afraid to die–stood out for me. “Isn’t that just about everyone?” I thought. Yet, many years ago, I realized there was only one thing to do about death–to make a friend of it and think of it often.

Life through Death

At first glance, thinking of death seems morbid. Death hardly seems like a cheerful thought for the day. But I contend that it is just that–or at least it can be a holy way to get through the day. And with holiness comes peace and ultimately joy. The opposite would be to try to deny death. That would be a depressing and hopelessly futile endeavor. Death is coming for us all so the sooner we make peace with it the sooner we can get on with living.

In the book Amazing Grace for Survivors (Ascension Press) there is a story titled “The Gift of Cancer.” In it, Richard J. Cusack, Sr. says that God gave him the greatest possible gift. “It was cancer and the fear of dying,” said Cusack. “Through that gift He woke me up and showed me what life is all about and how wonderful it can be when you begin your journey closer to Him.”

Cusack recovered, but during the time he believed he was at death’s doorstep, he prioritized his life very differently than it had been previously and he also began a ministry. “One Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. he was sitting in a perpetual adoration chapel, thanking God for all the extra time he had been given. ‘Before I arrive at my final judgment, is there something I can do for you here on earth?’ he asked God. ‘What would be pleasing to you? He suddenly had an inspiration about making a beautiful holy card with a monstrance on the front and the words, ‘Do you really love me? Then come to me. Visit me before the Blessed Sacrament.’” His first printing of 100 cards quickly ran out and requests for more poured in. Since that time, Cusack has distributed tens of thousands of these cards. It was death that was the inspiration for such living.

Several years ago, I was speaking with Elizabeth “Beth” Matthews, a favorite author of mine who contributed stories to the “Amazing Grace” book series. She was in the middle of yet another move, dealing with all the usual hassles and then some. Beth related to me a phone conversation she had with a relative. “In another hundred years we’ll all be dead and none of this will matter,” she had said.

Her relative was taken aback and said, “Oh Beth, don’t say that.”

But Beth responded: “Why not? It’s true.”

I understand that such a thought is actually not depressing, but freeing. Death puts everything in perspective. Instead of fretting over some irritation, it reminds us that indeed, soon our life on earth and life’s inconveniences will be nothing to us. It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, whenever I was upset over some trivial thing: “Will it matter in a hundred years from now?”

What if death was on your “to-do” list today?

I once read of a monk that was working in the garden when he was asked what he would do if he had one hour left to live. The monk calmly stated that he would not do anything differently, he would continue working in the garden. Many are surprised at such a response since most of us would immediately drop to our knees and pray. But for this monk, he strove to live every moment for God. Thus, he was always ready.

We all know people who spend inordinate amounts of time at work and have many possessions, but don’t go to Mass. If they knew they would come face to face with the Almighty that afternoon, would they change their schedule for the day? Or parents who run their kids all over town for activities, but don’t bother to take them to church on Sunday. If they suddenly learned their child was going to die very soon, would the priorities change?

In Part II, we will continue our look at life through our friend death and consider how the Divine Jeweler will appraise us.


Art for this post on our friend death: Detail of Schwarzenberg (Vorarlberg). Pfarrkirche Heiligste Dreieinigkeit: Franz-Xaver-Altar  Schwarzenberg (Vorarlberg) (Holy Trinity parish church: Altar of Saint Francis Xaver [showing death of Francis Xavier]), previously identified as the work of Johann Joseph Kauffmann, 1757, photographed by Wolfgang Sauber, 27 May 2012 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Patti Maguire Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti's Blog Facebook. Twitter.

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  • Gabrielle Renoir

    I certainly do not want to die yet, and I enjoy working for the Lord in this life. Though much in the world is heartbreaking – wars, famine, disease, etc. – I still love and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and hope I have many years more to enjoy it. Still, like the monk, I would not do anything differently.

    I think many people do not fear death itself, but fear the pain and incapacity that sometimes accompanies death. It can be a painful, long and drawn-out affair, even for the most holy among us.

    We live in such a materialistic society. The great fear of death that some have isn’t going to go away until people stop concentrating on the accumulation of material wealth and start concentrating on spiritual wealth. They need to realize they are dependent on God every second of every day. Unfortunately, the people who need to do that probably aren’t reading this blog.

    • Rosemaid

      How true I know I fear what may be the process of death. Just like Jesus I hope the cross may pass by me. I hope I will be able to “offer it up” if the Lord chooses for me to suffer physical, emotional and/or spiritual pain as I leave this world. I can only pray for his mercy for myself and for those who are reading this blog as well as those who ought to be reading this blog. Blessings <

      • LizEst

        Christ has gone before us…and is with us in this and in all things. We have nothing to fear from death. Christ has conquered it. God does not give us more than we can handle. He either gives us a way out or the means with which to handle all situations, including death. There is no way out of death. So, he has given us Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. All things pass in this world. Work for treasure in heaven. “Jesus I trust in you!” Put your trust in Him. He does not fail us.

    • LizEst

      Yes, dying can be painful, long and drawn-out…and often is. Some fear the pain. Some fear the journey. Many, many fear death itself. Any person with a ministry to the dying and their families has observed that.

      One of our readers, Mary, on this blog, has a simple prayer: “Lord, come when you are ready. And, make me ready for you when you come.” It’s a wonderful prayer. “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). It does not matter whether we live or die in this life. The important thing is that we are happy for the Lord’s will, no matter what. We must not, we cannot, be attached to this life in whatever form that attachment takes.

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      You hit the nail on the head. I think it is our materialism and comforts that makes death seem so far away. Yet, as you say, we are dependent on God for everything. We need to keep reminding ourselves that. Thanks for commenting.

      • Gabrielle Renoir

        I think many people deal with death by pushing it to some remote corner of their mind and telling themselves it’s a long way off and they will deal with it “someday.” But, as others here have said, this life is very short, and we never know when God will call us home. I know many people who deliberately avoid church and Christ because of the narrow path they would have to walk. It is only in dying to this life, however that we find eternal life and happiness beyond anything imaginable here on earth.

  • Harriet Turner

    Lately my prayer is Love… Him . myself . others . With His Love. Then I begin to wonde… is He preparing me for dying… having just turned 70.. of course, this clarifies that… we all need to ‘prepare’ as well-explained in this article!

  • I’m not ready to die yet either. I hope to be saint when that time comes. But with that goal, its not happening anytime soon, I hope!
    Death seems to be everywhere lately. My Godmother’s dad died, my high school chem teacher, my classmate’s grandmother.
    More so with Typhoon Haiyan. No one even know the casualties yet. Electricity and communications there are all down. I know people who live in the storm’s path. Or at least know people who have family there. Its scary to think what the news will be tomorrow. It affected 1/3 of the country! :((
    Mom, my bro and I were talking over dinner. Mom said God may have permitted it because difficulties like this bring people closer to Him. Suffering brings us closer to God. And in our weakness, desperation and need, we cry out to Him. And I guess the good people among them were spared from the chance to go astray. Still, its horrible to even imagine the devastation tomorrow will reveal.

    • Jeanette

      I’ve prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet…may I suggest that others do as well to lessen the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

      • Thank you! Very much appreciated!

    • LizEst

      My prayers for you and all those in your country.

      • Thank you very much! God Bless!

    • Very happy you are ok. Will continue to pray.

      • It hit Visayas (central islands of the Philippines). I live in Luzon, northern island, so my family is okay. But many people do still need prayers! Thank you! God Bless!

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      I am praying for everyone in the path of the typhoon. During such situations, there is an element of blessing as everyone prepares both physically AND spiritually. May God bless you and keep you safe.

      • Thank you for the prayers! Thank you also for this beautiful article! May God Bless you too!

      • Gabrielle Renoir

        I add my prayers to everyone else’s for those in the path of the typhoon.

        • Thank you! Pray for the victims and for those in Vietnam. That’s where its headed now.

  • Jeanette

    There’s nothing like being ill, housebound and suffering to make you reflect on your death. I’ve been going through this for the past 2 weeks. I’m in a wheelchair now because of inflammation of the legs/feet and the family doctor is still investigating the cause. But, you know, I feel so close to the Lord during this time, and I feel that I’m in uniformity to His Will. I’m not upset but feel calm and serene. I know He is teaching me much. Every day during this, I have so much more to offer God. Being ill, and having much time on your hands, brings some thoughts regarding death but these thoughts do not bother me at all as I know Jesus will be with me then. Besides, we must remember that this life on earth is so short…it is our testing ground…we should each day remember that our ultimate goal is to be with the beautiful Trinity, Mother Mary, the Angels and Saints in Heaven. This is my prayer to the Lord: “Lord, I so want to be with You now in Heaven because of my love for You but I want to do Your Will also, so I desire that I not attain Heaven one second sooner than You Will it.”

    • This is so beautiful and inspiring! I love your prayer! I hope I could truly love Him as you do!

    • LizEst

      Beautiful, beautiful! What great testimony and conformity to the will of God. I would never have guessed you were going through this right now, by your other comments on this blog. Let’s make a pact: whoever gets to see the Lord in person first, please remember the other one of us to Jesus! My prayers for you, Jeanette. God bless you!

      • Jeanette

        It’s a pact then! Thank you Liz. God bless you too!

    • CLudwick

      Your faith is inspiring to me and it is certainly true that suffering makes things much “clearer”. Offering up the pain, anxiety, etc. can make the instance more holy. I have had to do the same, however not in so severe a situation. I am still learning and you are right, these kinds of instances are truly a part of the “testing ground” we live in. May Our Lord and Savior be with you at all times.

      • Jeanette

        Thank you so much. And He with you!

  • Annie

    I have been ill for sometime and should of by all aspects be gone but for medicines that now keep me here , of course the power of god thru it all. I have always said that my illness was and is a gift . The responses I get vary from ” a gift? What kind of gift is that? Or I get a look like I am crazy . But truly it is for me a gift that god trusts me with and whether I am already doing what he wants me to do or whether it’s to come I accept it . This is my healing. Most people believe a healing means to be cured of the illness but it is the releasing of it into gods hands to accept what he trust us to do with the illness . I lift all of it up to him so his will is done and as his handmaiden I know I am doing my part to help other souls . God works in mysterious ways and I for one am so excited and so blessed to be a part of it and I look forward to my passing this life for then I pray that through his great mercy I get to sit at the table and rejoice and praise him with all his angels and saints!!!!!!!!

    • LizEst

      Thanks for sharing your beautiful witness, Annie. God bless you! My prayers for you.

  • Aimliz

    Great article Patti. My husband reminds me now and then, that the minute we are born we start our journey to death. Seems like a morbid way to view it, but I guess it is the truth. I also, wanted to share this cool story with all of you…
    A nephew of mine recently lost his father. His dad was late in years and very close to The Lord. Just weeks before he passed away, he was told he had advanced cancer. Instead of sadness and fear he ran outside and performed a jig. Literally! He told his family that he was SO excited to go be with The Lord. He embraced this time. He said that this is what I’ve been preparing for.
    I just thought that was an incredible way to handle that news.
    God Bless 🙂

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      Thanks for sharing that wonderful story. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be so happy. As I’ve read the lives of the saints stories, it seems they are all very much as peace with dying and actually look forward to meeting our Lord. People who have had after life experiences and were revived, also no longer fear death. So, we might as well join them and get anything holding us back from such joy, out of the way.

    • Gabrielle Renoir

      I do pray to St. Joseph for a good death. I don’t feel God wants me to leave this earth quite yet as he has work for me to do, but I know I will leave when it is his will for me to do so and not a minute before or later. When that time comes, I hope I can be like your nephew’s wonderful father! What a beautiful story to share! Thank you! I am excited to see the Lord, too, and the beautiful priest who shared so much of his heart with me for so many years and whose beautiful spirit still watches over me and intercedes for me.

  • Lydia

    I found this quote so profound, ‘Before I arrive at my final judgment, is there something I can do for you here on earth?’ he asked God. ‘What would be pleasing to you?’ If we all would only ask that every day!

    Thank you Dan for this amazing website! There is nothing else like it online and I tell everyone about it. I heard your weekly “Spiritual Direction Connection” this morning on Teresa Tomeo’s Catholic Connection (yay to Teresa’s new book God’s Bucket List! Every week is just great and your teachings really help my prayer life. Thanks so much!

  • Please donate to the typhoon victims also if you can!

    This is the relief operations of my university. Plese check 3.2 and 3.3 for Overseas donors. They are tax-deductible for the US.

    Catholic Relief Services

    • Jeanette

      Hello Mary! I’m housebound right now and couldn’t get to Mass but I had a visitor who came to see me right after Mass from our Church this morning. She said that the Knights of Columbus had a pancake breakfast today and all the proceeds are being sent to the Philippines for relief operations!

      • That’s great to hear! Thank you and my thanks to you parish as well! 🙂

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