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'I want my acceptance of death to be an embrace'

When the Reverend Forrest Church was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2006, he vowed that "I want my acceptance of death to be an embrace."

Acceptance, he added in his conversation with writer Carl Lehmann-Haupt, is not just for the person dying; rather, it is an act that friends and family usually grapple with as well. "When you get right down to it, my accepting and embracing my death is one thing. [My wife's] accepting and embracing my death is another. And ultimately she has to do that; that's part of her spiritual challenge. In some ways it's more difficult than my accepting and embracing my death."

Church tells us that once death is accepted, it can be a gift. "Many people who are dying have an opportunity—but sometimes don't have the imagination to seize. And that is to turn my life…into a prayer, to embrace life, to accept my past and just say 'yes' to it. Not to let the future haunt me, but to be in the moment, aware of the miracle, which is life itself, which would not exist if death was not one of its hinges."

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