Years ago, my spiritual father and I were leaving his cell, headed for the monastery’s chapel for confession, when his old rotary phone rang. Anyone who knew him knew this to be true: “Never stand between Archimandrite Damian and a ringing telephone.”
He answered: “He-ll-oooo … WHO? Oh no, he died! Uh-huh, you’re welcome … please do. Bye bye.”
As he hung up, I asked: “Who died?”
“I did,” he said, “it was some salesperson … now they’ll take my name off their list.”
Fr Damian died, for real, back in 2009 — moving from the column of the Living to the column of the Deceased on my prayer list. The older a priest gets, the more such transitions occur, the moving of names from one side of the page to the other.
One of the last things I learned from him was this: “What the soul desires, the body fears.”
He said that in one of our final phone conversations; I said, “Did you just make that up?”
He said, “Wh-at? I guess. Well it’s true, Father.”
I said, “I believe you – I just want to quote you.”
What the soul desires the body fears. (And, in most cases, the saying would seem to hold true read the other way ‘round: What the body desires, the soul fears.)
Anyway, I got to thinking about all that when reflecting on death and obituaries. Why was I thinking of such morbid things? I dunno. Maybe ‘cause I’m getting older … I see loved ones, friends, family, and family’s friends dying … maybe because I now serve a parish which recently lost its pastor … maybe it’s just because it’s winter!
But, one thing’s for sure, one has to be a bit careful when approaching the subject of death – especially when it comes to obituaries.
Once, back when I worked as a radio announcer, I had to fill in for an ailing DJ whose show included the reading of the daily obituaries from the local newspaper. (It was a small town radio station and, believe it or not, the time slot for the reading of the daily obituaries was very popular.)
I’d been taught in college to use the word “died” as in “John Doe died yesterday”, and to refrain from the more comforting terms: “passed away … slipped into eternal rest … breathed his last” etc.
So, I read the obituaries as I’d been taught.
By the end of the broadcast I came close to having to read my own obituary! The phone lines lighted up and…
The Orthodixie Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.
Image – My family and Fr Damian, c. 2004.