It’s a funny thing about hope. We talk a lot about it when we think we have no more of it. The tendency to equate hope with survival stands at odds with the universal reality of death. Far from being hopeless at the end of life, there can be a great deal of real hope. For me, the question becomes, “How do I hope to die?”
I have seen a lot of death and usually came away thinking, “I do not want to die like that.” When I saw a man surrounded by his four daughters, each gently touching him and whispering how they loved him, I thought, “I hope to die like that.” I hope to be surrounded by the people who love me and whose relationships have been at the center of my meaning.
I realize that the question of how I hope to die raises the question of how I hope to live my life.
I had finished conducting the funeral of a woman who grew up so poor that she often ate leftover coffee grounds just to have something to put in her stomach. She worked hard and did well.
What impressed me most came after the funeral, when the adults had shifted to their own conversations and a beautiful little mixed-race child slipped up to the casket of her grandmother and stood there alone. I saw the tears slide down her face and slip silently into the satin of the casket. I remember thinking that I hope to live my life in such a way that a child would weep at my funeral.
I believe it was Muhammad Ali who described hope as the belief that we can be better. So for me, hope is not some way to avoid the inevitable but a way to embrace death and the process of dying by engaging life more fully.
I hope to face death with an openness to what it teaches about limits and what endures. I hope to see more clearly the beauty all around me; vivid sunsets certainly, but even more, people. When I asked one woman what she wanted from this time, she said she wanted no more time in doctors’ waiting rooms but did want to hold each individual loved one’s face and memorize every freckle and fleck of color in their eyes. Near her death, she whispered to me that she got what she wanted. I hope to live and die like she did.
I hope that I will have courage enough to say what I need to say and hear what I need to hear. I hope I will be strong enough to forgive and humble enough to accept forgiveness. I hope that if I have to have someone else tend to my toileting needs that I will be able to receive their care as a baby receives love. I hope my friends will let me cry even as they surround me with the laughter of shared history. I hope to live more fully and to keep on learning the things that matter until I enter the Great Mystery. And I hope to do that with faith.