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Andromeda Galaxy

We Are Not Meant to Die Alone

Madeleine L’Engle

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This article is the foreword to Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death (2002) by Johann Christoph Arnold.

One evening while my children were doing homework, I was sitting at my desk writing, when one of our neighbors, a young man in high school, came in demanding, “Madeleine, are you afraid of death?”

Barely turning, I answered, “Yes, Bob, of course.” He plunked himself down on a chair. “Thank God. Nobody else will dare to admit it.”

Death is change, and change is always fearful as well as challenging, but until we can admit the fear, we cannot accept the challenge. Until we can admit the fear, we cannot know the assurance, deep down in our hearts, that indeed, we are not afraid.

Be Not Afraid is a wonderful book about the kind of fearlessness of death that comes despite the normal fears we have, no matter how deep our faith. Indeed, it is only deep faith that can admit fear, and then move on to the understanding that God can work through our tragedies as well as our joys; that even when accidents and illness let us down, God never lets us down.

I am also grateful that Be Not Afraid addresses the paradox of our abuse of the great gift of free will, and God’s working out of Love’s plan for the universe. No, God does not cause or will the death of a child, but God can come into all things, no matter how terrible. God can help us to bear them, and even be part of them.

In a society that is afraid of death – not the normal fear Bob expressed, but the terrible fear that surrounds us when we are not centered on God – we tend to isolate the dying, implying that death is contagious. Yes, we all die; there are no exceptions; but we are not meant to die alone. I was taken through a beautiful new cancer hospital where in each room there was what looked like a small mahogany table. In a moment it could be pulled out and turned into a bed, where a family member or friend could be with the person who was ill.

I was privileged to be with my husband, holding him, at the time of his death. The grace to be with other people as they have made the great transition has been given me. Perhaps when I answered Bob’s question with, “Yes, of course,” I was referring to awe, rather than fear or panic, an awe some of us are afraid to face.

I wish a friend had put this beautiful book in my hands when my husband died. It honors life, and in honoring life it honors death. It also honors the One who made us all with such love. God came to live with us as Jesus, to show us how to live, and to die, and that gives us assurance of the Resurrection, and of life in eternity – that is, of life beyond time and all that is transient, in God’s love forever.

photo of Madeleine LEngle
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