Death and Dying:
Completing the Journey Hand in Hand

By Ingrid H. Shafer


This is a letter I wrote to dear friends. Leo was a survivor of Auschwitz. He was in the death camps as a child; his parents and four siblings were murdered. He survived. His wife had a benign brain tumor removed three years ago, and still suffers from serious radiation effects. Leo developed lung cancer last fall and went through chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer spread to the brain, and Leo has since passed away.

I believe that this letter speaks to so many of us, regardless of our individual situations.

26 July 1997

Dearest Arlene and Leo,

I look at these photographs, and I see a man and a woman so joined, so connected, so deeply in love that ultimately nothing can separate them.

These are the words I want to say to you, but they don't come easy. I've struggled most of the night trying to decide whether I should or shouldn't tell you what I am about to write.

This morning I woke up with this overpowering sense that I must.

You are afraid. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of no longer being with one another. Afraid of dying. Fear of death is natural. It keeps us alive!

You are angry. Angry because you feel that you are about to be robbed of something that is yours by right: life. Angry because of all the things still left undone. Angry because you have suffered so much already, and it just isn't fair that there should be more agony. Being angry is natural as well. The organism strikes back whenever it is threatened.

You deny it. You want to block it all out of your mind. You want to hide from it. You want to pretend that the thing you fear won't happen, can't happen. This, too, is natural, a way for us to protect our psychic circuits from an overload.

But finally, you will have to accept the inevitable. Human beings are mortal. All of us will die. I am no exception. You are no exception. You may live through the present crisis and have a few more months or years together, but now is the time to make an essential decision. You can choose to complete this final segment of your journey hand in hand, as you have walked for some forty years, or you can choose to pull apart now and take the final few steps alone, each trying to protect the other. You can stop sharing with one another the very fears which haunt you most. You can tell one another not even to consider certain possibilities. Or you can make the end-time of your lives a grace-filled time of sharing and growth, of holding one another, of weeping and remembering together, of learning to let go of the world, of allowing your love-which is also God's love-to light your path as you pass through the dark chasms and tunnels of fear.

I love you!


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