You can Google dying well and find the many perspectives on what that means. Some would suggest it involves preparation for the end, mending fences with the living who will be left behind, making sure to express love to those whom you love, coming to peace with your worthy life (hopefully well lived) and then figuring out how to say goodbye. Some insist that you must not merely be a participant in your own dying but need to confronted choices, take control of it, and dictate the terms of how that process will unfold. In effect, you must choose your path to a peaceful end of life. Some focus on making sure it is a good death, a death at home with family members around you, relieved of pain and the distraction of medical details by hospice care, and free to direct the way the end will go for you.
Some of the focus is on the earthly stuff of cost and care. You may have heard that about 25% of all Medicare dollars go toward your care in the last year of your life. Some decry the inequity of such money that could be going toward those who are not quite there yet -- for home health services, physician house calls, health aides. Some 20% will die in hospital and more in nursing homes and perhaps 30% will end up in intensive care costing intensive dollars as they wait for death. It is almost like these folks want you to feel guilty for dying!
But you probably will not find much talk about dying well in the sense of faith, preparing us for death but also for eternal life. A couple of months ago The Lutheran Witness, official monthly magazine of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, spent an issue on dying well. I urge you to read it! Editor Roy Askins writes:
Under the theme “Ars Moriendi: The Art of Dying Well,” the September issue of The Lutheran Witness continues the ancient Christian tradition of reflecting on and preparing for one’s death with faith and confidence in Christ’s resurrection. It features reflections from LCMS pastors on the various fears that surround death — hospice and nursing homes, fears of faith and conscience, the temptations of Satan in the hour of death — and answers these in light of the Gospel.
Now we celebrate All Souls' Day and it would be a good time to reflect upon what it means to die well. I find help for this most of all in the hymnody of the Church. Listen to the words we sing that are about this very subject.
In the wonderful hymn text O Sacred Head Now Wounded, we sing:
Be Thou my consolation,
My shield, when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well.
Then let us leave this place of rest
And homeward turn, for they are blest
Who heed God’s warning and prepare
Lest death should find them unaware.
So help us, Jesus, ground of faith;
Thou hast redeemed us by Thy death
From endless death and set us free.
We laud and praise and worship Thee.
Sadly, Lutheran Service Book does not include a section of hymns for death and burial. You can find them throughout the book but I miss the section. Lutheran Worship had such a section. The Lutheran Hymnal had a larger number in that section, itself a part of the major category The Last Things.
There you sing:
With peace and joy I now depart;
God's child I am with all my heart.
I thank thee, death, thou leadest me
To that true life where I would be.
So cleansed by Christ, I fear not death.
Lord Jesus, strengthen Thou my faith.
Since Thou the pow'r of death didst rend,
In death Thou wilt not leave me;
Since Thou didst into heaven ascend,
No fear of death shall grieve me.
For where Thou art, there shall I be
That I may ever live with Thee;
That is my hope when dying.
My spirit I commend to Thee
And gladly hence betake me;
Peaceful and calm my sleep shall be,
No human voice can wake me.
But Christ is with me through the strife,
And He will bear me into life
And open heav'n before me.
If you are having trouble finding such stanzas, perhaps the night hymns would be a good place to start.
There you might just want to sing:I lie, O Lord, within Your care,
Awake or when I’m sleeping.
Whoever trusts in Your strong arms
Is safe within Your keeping.
Lord, You alone keep constant watch;
My restless heart You quiet.
When darkness fills the night with fear,
I will by faith defy it.
When shadows fall, I will not dwell
On troubles that distress me,
Nor let some painful memory
Embitter and oppress me.
It is enough that You are near;
I need not now discover
What hidden plans You have for me,
My future’s path uncover.
Tomorrow’s road I cannot trace
Nor know what ills will meet me.
You only ask that I be still
And trust You there will greet me.
Each dawning day to which I wake
Will show Your hand still guiding
And ev’ry good my life requires
Your grace again providing.
Though troubles still may cloud the sky,
I’ll see beyond them shining
A light to show some hidden way—
A way of Your designing.
Since You have gently touched my eyes,
I’ll sleep through tears of sorrow.
Though long the night, my God, my friend,
Will be my guide tomorrow.
Dying well and living well have one thing in common -- the focus upon Christ alone!