Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Near Death Experiences

Morris Chapel, Oaktown, Indiana, where Wade's mom was baptized at three months of age.
Yes, that's a cornfield on the left.

I have put off writing this post for several weeks, using the excuse of describing my workshop on self-care and then explaining my guilty pleasure watching old episodes of Frasier and Murder, She Wrote and finally, using photos of signs I’ve taken in recent years.

But this picks up where I left off with “A Mother’s Work Is Never Done” about my mother-in-law’s death. I had thought to save you any more reflections on death, lest you roll your eyes or click “delete” or find something more pleasant on the internet. But, like death itself, writing about it is inescapable.

I wrote a whole book about death, The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me about Life, describing many experiences finding myself in proximity to someone’s death, so you might think I’d be used to death by now. But, while more experienced, I still am at a loss when someone dies, especially as I come closer to my own final passing or “transitioning,” as a hospice worker referred to dying.

As I write this, I look out at our backyard lawn dying from prolonged lack of rain and unrelenting summer heat despite my best efforts at watering. At least it can look forward to being aerated and reseeded this fall when cooler temperatures prevail.

I am interrupted by Wade explaining he’s taking his mom’s Christmas ornaments to our nearby Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and my mood lightens as the question crosses my mind if that’s where I’ll end up!  ( ;  

When we talked about afterlife, a neighbor who looks every bit the part of a Hindu sage with long greying dark hair and beard and flowing attire and sandals, suggested humbly that expecting life to be eternal is “a bit greedy, don’t you think?” His comment made me smile appreciatively. Maybe this desire for everlasting life is simply a reflection of our acquisitive, self-indulgent culture.

In my book I wrote that belief in an afterlife is more important for me when it comes to other people I care about, especially those whose lives have been cut short or ended before fulfilling their life dreams.

In seminary I read an essay that explained early Christians weren’t thinking of life that extended forever, but rather, life that has eternal significance and thus, an eternal “view,” perspective, and effect. Earlier, in college, I became enamored of process theology, in which we live on eternally in God’s memory. This hardly seems satisfactory to those of generations past who spent their lives enslaved, marginalized, or closeted or of their descendants who become the victims of violence.

Nearer to home, I wondered what life would be like without Wade or he without me, the more likely scenario.

Wade and I spent a week in Indiana that included another memorial service for his mom and scattering of her ashes in their hometown of Oaktown. We spent part of our time finding and visiting and, in two cases, adorning the graves of his relatives.

Cemetery next to the chapel.

That’s also how I spent part of my May visit to California, but this time, not just visiting graves of my relatives, but finding and visiting the graves of two friends.  One died as a child when I was a child after initially surviving one of the earliest open-heart surgeries. The other became one of my best friends in high school and later in college after the untimely death of his nineteen-year-old brother. I discovered to my surprise that the latter friend, who died in 2009, is buried in the same grave as his brother, and has no marker of his own.

I thought of my maternal grandfather, who lived to be 95, wryly saying to me on a cemetery visit, “When you get to be my age, you have to come here to visit some of your friends.”

I also visited the grave of a friend’s brother. A promising songwriter, his life was cut short by gun violence at 29. On his grave marker are these words:

Always documenting my discoveries through music…
The music is a part of me that I received from God.
I acted as an instrument and God as the musician.
For many years I was lost…
looking the wrong way for the wrong things.
“The end justifies the means”—No, I don’t think so.
It is the journey, not the destination that is vital.

Life is meant as a gift to enjoy,
to experience, to give and to receive.
The simplest, smallest gestures can be of greatest essence.
So don’t hold back. Make life whole and complete.
Seek not material things but fulfillment of the soul and spirit.

A reminder that "God Loves Us."

Here is the Amazon link to my book: The Final Deadline

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.


  1. This closing phrase from the poem “Silence” by Edgar Lee Masters was printed in one of my college yearbooks in reference to two classmates who had died unexpectedly:

    “Their silence shall be interpreted
    As we approach them.”

    I’ve never forgotten this phrase and am always strangely affected by these words: not quite understanding the intent of the poet, and yet, sensing truth in what he has written.

    For a bit more context, here is the entire last paragraph of this poem:

    “And there is the silence of the dead.
    If we who are in life cannot speak
    Of profound experiences,
    Why do you marvel that the dead
    Do not tell you of death?
    Their silence shall be interpreted
    As we approach them.”

    From “Silence” by Edgar Lee Masters, 1915

    1. Profound, and a mystery, as is death. Thanks, Barry!

  2. Most comments on my blog are sent directly to me. Here is one I asked the writer if I could share with you:

    Again another great article. I find that the last two years have brought death into the reality of my life more than ever before in the sense that many of the key figures in my life have died. I often feel that suddenly I have moved from secure child to elder adult without going through the stages in between. Now as I am faced with the reality of my own mortality I find that death is not the amorphous cloud in the background I have experienced from a distance to a being of many faces. A friend, an enemy, a comforter, and the ultimate healer. While I am still in the grace period the doctors have allowed me to decide about what treatments I will or will not persue I feel there is a strange dichotomy. It is between my friends that are still on this plane and those who have gone before. Both seem to call to me and yet I feel strangely apart from both.

    I have no desire to heed either but just take the days as they come. My time is spent in simple things, getting my apartment in order, playing with the dog, meeting neighbors at dinner, and helping friends when I can. I am niether fighting death nor running to embrace. Perhaps this is the lesson I have needed to learn all my life. Let each day stand on it's own. Not projecting to the future and not living in the past. It is a strange sort of freedom which I intend to enjoy (until December at least when I have to make a decision about my care). I don't know if this is a peculiar form of denial or a blessed respite but I'll take it for the present.

    Take care and please continue this blog it is a ministry of far reaching dimensions, perhaps farther than you know.