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The Game Plan for Sudden Death

Death is always right around the corner. Which corner, few of us know. Who among us is rightly prepared for the inevitable?

In the vigilante movie Death Wish II, Charles Bronson, noting the cross worn by one of his soon-to-be victims, inquires, “Do you believe in Jesus?” and declares, “You’re about to meet Him!” just before sending him off to eternity. Brutal, to be sure, but generous, to a degree. In death, many of us won’t have the luxury of a moment for prayer or introspection; for many, it’ll be Sudden Death.

A Time magazine cover story titled “Dying on Our Own Terms” (Sept. 18, 2000) addresses the tender topic of death with this lament: “Dying is one of the few events in life certain to occur — and yet one we are not likely to plan for.” Without a doubt, preparing for one’s death is the ultimate goal of life. In death we are judged; in life we determine our judgment.

But of course, Time doesn’t see it in these terms. Rather, Time offers up several pathos-laden cancer stories to illustrate the wretchedness of dying a lonely, painful death. The most telling of these is that of retired New York psychologist Felice Gans, 72, who has been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. Gans never married, has no one “to help guide her,” and her days are given over to “stark terror.” She admits that “I sometimes wish that I had a belief system.” Ah, therein lies the key: Death is abominable when there’s nothing to look forward to afterwards. Without a credible belief system, there is no answer to the question “Why am I here?” Survival itself, though instinctual, is rendered trivial, and suffering has no redemptive potential. In secular terms, death is an absurdly horrible end to a meaningless existence.

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