Death is ugly. That fact doesn’t try my faith, but I find death’s ugliness strange.
We are rightfully proud of the attitude people find in our funerals, but at the same time, we often ignore, deny, or even conceal the ugliness of that to which the funeral is a testament, namely the ugliness of death. A funeral celebrates the life of the deceasedâ€”of course. It reminds us of the Gospel and its promise. I don’t dispute those things; they are essential to every funeral and central to my faith. In spite of that, it remains true that a funeral reminds us that death is ugly.
Sometimes death comes softly and quietly, like falling asleep. Sometimes we know it is coming and we prepare, writing our testaments and saying our goodbyes. Even then death is ugly, stealing those we love, cutting off all contact for who-knows-how-long. More often, however, death’s thievery is accomplished in an ugly way: disfigurement and pain are its tools, kidnapping without warning its timing. Death earns our hatred.
One kind of Christianity assumes that whatever value this life has it gets from the next. There are many things to say against that belief, but Nietzsche said most of them much better than I, so I will demure. Sometimes, perhaps struck dumb by the absence gaping before us and, therefore, lapsing into a kind of mechanical speech, we say things that sound vaguely like they are part of that kind of Christianity, things I will not repeat because I do not want to embarass either myself or my friendsâ€”all of us have said those things. In the face of death, to console the living, all of us have unintentionally denied the value of this life.
The ugliness of death is a testimony against that belief. If life were not valuable in itself, death could not be ugly.