Facing death and living fully – BC Catholic
There has never been a time in my life when the reality of death has been so prevalent and prominent. I guess it would make sense, working in a graveyard and experiencing a pandemic with weekly death toll updates.
Before working at the Gardens of Gethsemane, I never knew or imagined that I was afraid of death. It wasn’t until I started working on it every day that I realized that I had a fear not so much of death itself, but of what it represented.
It took me months to feel comfortable walking through and near the graves. It took a lot of time of prayer, conversation, soul-searching, and personal experiences to bring me to a place where I wasn’t so triggered by the thought of death.
Death symbolizes so much: fear of abandonment, fear of the unknown, loss of control, loss of connection. They say that sometimes people who fear death have not fully lived their lives or have not fulfilled their life purpose. Maybe that’s part of why death scares me, because I’m not ready to die, I’m not ready to let go, to fully surrender myself.
Throughout the journey, there were some experiences and truths that comforted me and brought me healing and grounding. I would like to share them in the hope that they can benefit others.
Connect and embrace our common humanity
I remember sharing with people close to me that I was struggling with the fear of death. One of the people I shared this with just gave me a big hug. Others just listened and offered empathy, even if they didn’t fully understand. These experiences of presence and compassion often made fear disappear. It’s like with love – there is no room for fear. It was amazing and so real to me that love really dispels fear.
As I was helping for the first time at a mass for the loss of an infant, I was afraid it would be too much for me to bear. I had never lost a baby myself and was not sure what I could do to help those in attendance. It ended up being one of the most powerful experiences. Seeing so many people come together and offer their support, compassion, prayer and love was truly touching. There was sadness, but the love was greater than the sadness. There was also a sweet beauty to the whole experience because it was so obvious to me that even the grief was a testament to the deep, visceral love for these children who had left too soon.
Pope Francis wrote that there is something about death that unites us all. We all have this destiny in common, and this common ground can be used to bring us closer together. Our common humanity can be a springboard for communion. When we realize that we are together, that fellowship pays off in love and, as the Bible says, love dispels fear.
Snapshots of a book titled 7 lessons from heaven:
One of the best books I read in my first year at Gardens was 7 lessons from paradise: how death taught me to live a life filled with joy. Author Dr Mary Neil is a spine surgeon who had an epic afterlife experience where she met Our Lord, tasted Heaven, and was then invited back to earth to share. His experience.
The way she described Our Lord and the Hereafter was so beautiful, heartwarming, real and appealing that I began to see death and the Hereafter in a whole new way. I realized that Heaven is not as far away as we think it is and the spiritual world is all around us.
As a result of his afterlife experience, Dr Neil says one of his first reactions to hearing someone has passed is a kind of holy jealousy due to the beauty, peace and love that ‘she remembers having lived.
I was particularly struck by the way she described Jesus: his absolute love, his mercy, his warmth, his affection. She said he even had a sense of humor. I highly recommend reading this book, which will make you want to live life more fully and inspire you to live it more happily.
Friendship with holy souls and those buried here
Over the past two years, I have developed a relationship with the souls buried in the Gardens: both those in Heaven and those in Purgatory. I pray for the souls in Purgatory every day and offer my Mass and small sacrifices for them. I also ask them for graces and often walk around the cemetery and talk to those I know by name, whether I know them in person or through a family member.
This relationship with the communion of saints and our brothers and sisters waiting for heaven in purgatory also helped me to be less afraid of death. These people who came before us are deeply interconnected with our lives. They want the best for us and I believe they guide us in many ways and obtain graces.
Visitors to Gardens have told me so many stories of loved ones who visited them, in their dreams or sent them special signs to let them know they were okay, to bring comfort or to ask for prayers.
I experienced it myself. One day, alone in the office, I felt that there was a special soul in need of prayer. I asked to receive a little sign through my phone. Immediately this confirmation arrived on my phone.
Experiences like this are not scary. Rather, they are heartwarming and meant to be received as the gift they are.
Anna loch is a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Vancouver and an outreach manager at Gethsemani Gardens. She holds a master’s degree in theology and counseling psychology.