Death

The New Secular Puritan Covenant

Thanksgiving brings back memories for Americans of the Pilgrims and Puritans, carrying out their “errand into the wilderness” to build a “city on a hill,” surviving that first bleak Massachusetts winter of 1620-21. As a kid, I remember that cutting out Puritan hats from black construction paper and taping them to the school windows was [...]

How Do I Want to Be Dead?

The July 9 New York Times Sunday Review contained a feature by Richard Conniff. Driven by his research on English moles, he visited the grave of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows. What impressed Conniff, and inspired his op-ed, was that Grahame’s grave was in both “a graveyard and a wildlife refuge. [...]

On the Death of a Brother-In-Law

My brother-in-law, Jerome Vertin, died in Chesapeake, Virginia, in hospice care at about five A.M. on February 25. My sister, his wife of sixty-three years, was with him when he died. She said that he seemed most peaceful in death. I thought: “This is the reality that marriage vows prepare a couple for, the ’till [...]

When the Dead Go Home to God

When my mother-in-law died, following a long and unhappy illness, her passing was seen by all as a blessed and merciful release. Free at last—that was the universal refrain among family and friends. It was not just the burden of old age, whose cumulative debilities wore her down, but the ravages of Alzheimer’s, which left [...]

Teaching Death to Nursing Students with Leo Tolstoy

 To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. ~ T. S. Eliot We’ve come to the close of our annual month-long reminder of the obvious: We’re all going to die. It’s a truism that we learned as kids in Sunday school and CCD—the first of the four [...]

Thoughts on Euthanasia Prompted by My Uncle’s Death

My French uncle, whom I always knew as “l’oncle Jean,” recently died. I was struck once again by the dignity and mercy of a Christian death, despite the accompanying pain and anguish. Unlike Brittany Maynard from Oregon who, suffering from terminal brain-cancer, euthanized herself, and unlike “Laura” from Belgium who, though physically healthy, intends to [...]

Death in Kristin Lavransdatter

Those who have read Kristin Lavransdatter, the epic trilogy by Catholic convert and Norwegian Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset, have read it at least twice. This formidable tale of farming and holy pilgrimages and family in the shadow of white-peaked mountains hurtles the reader into all the pain and love and last rites of death—death, [...]

The Witness of Heroism

“In my beginning is my end.”   ∼ T.S. Eliot In a passage often cited from the Pensees, which the author sets down in grim and graphic detail, Pascal summons the reader to reflect on the awful finality of death.   “The last act is bloody,” he tells us, “however fine the rest of the play. [...]

What Do We Say to the Bereaved?

When U.S. photojournalist Jim Foley, following nearly two years of close captivity by the terrorist thugs of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was finally and gruesomely decapitated—a video of his execution having been posted online—the bereaved family received the usual outpouring of sympathy and support from a civilized world outraged by this [...]

The Gift of Purgatory

The room is air conditioned, and cold. Admittedly, the heat outside is uncomfortable, but the chill inside manages to be worse. Unnatural. Sterile. Like the air churning out of the vents, the atmosphere feels forced. Two greeters, with expressions and attitudes to match the manufactured climate, greet my parents and me as we enter. One [...]

Life as Preparation for Death

Shortly before taking leave of this world, Sir Winston Churchill, who had lived a very long and illustrious life, was reportedly asked about the state of his soul: “I am perfectly ready,” he said, “to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Only someone of [...]

Search for the Secret of Life and Death

Editor’s note: The following column by Stratford Caldecott first appeared May 16, 2014 on his blog Beauty in Education. Why can’t we all live forever? It seems a terrible flaw in the fabric of the world—that death haunts us from the moment we are born, injecting a note of tragedy into everything. And yet how [...]

When Those We Love Die

In thinking about the destiny of those who die, the course of their final trajectory beyond the grave, it is always unwise to make predictions about the precise place awaiting them on the other side.  How can anyone, in the absence of a sudden sunburst from above, possibly know?  Unless one were fully omniscient—which is [...]

Easter Hope Amid the Horror of Death

As anyone with half-a-brain knows, success in the publishing world is measured by the number of books sold.  What many do not know, of course, is that there are only two categories that perennially produce best sellers.  Cookbooks and diet books.  How wonderfully self-cancelling they are, too.  While the one will tell you what to [...]

The Importance of Stan Musial’s Funeral Mass

Stan Musial passed away on January 19, 2013 at 92 years of age.  His wife of nearly 72 years died the previous year.  Thousands of friends filed through the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis during the six-hour public visitation.  The funeral Mass for the man who played 22 years in a Cardinal uniform was presided [...]

Mementos and Momento Mori

It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that I had to help my dad move a couple of heavier and more awkward items out of my grandparents’ now empty house. With my grandmother unable to live on her own and in a nursing home, and Grandpop having moved onto the other side of death more [...]

Captivated by Death

This essay first appeared in the July 1996 edition of Crisis Magazine.   Millions of Americans sit out their lives in darkened rooms, enthralled by the gasps and groans, cries and screams, and by the accompanying images on the screen. Our free-market system is designed to provide efficiently that which people desire and for which [...]

Death of a Bad Dude

In the 1980s, I was an unrefined adolescent from blue-collar Butler, Pennsylvania. I knew nothing and cared nothing about politics. I had no idea if I was a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, or much of anything else. But I knew one thing: Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. This was expressed in a [...]

Bishops Betrayed on Assisted Suicide

Even as the nation's bishops react with alarm to a recent Montana Supreme Court ruling allowing physician-assisted suicide, their efforts are being undermined by ethics and law professors at several Jesuit universities. Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a statement describing assisted suicide as "a terrible tragedy, one that a compassionate society [...]

What Is ‘Roman Catholic Political Philosophy’?

A course in "Roman Catholic Political Philosophy" is rarely found in any academic institution, including those sponsored by the Church. We do find courses titled "Religion and Politics," "Social Doctrine of the Church," or "Church and State" -- but "Roman Catholic Political Philosophy" is something different. Going back to Plato, it is common to find [...]

Just In Case

The last thing I wanted to do on a Saturday morning was discuss my husband’s death with 20 women. Not that he had died; neither had theirs. But, encouraged by him, I signed up for a workshop on what to do if suddenly widowed. Leading this sobering examination was a woman whose fate had been [...]

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