Do you know someone who is? Have you ever wondered how you would survive the loss of someone you love? Whether consciously or not, every life is sooner or later touched by death, and thus every person must deal with these questions at one point or another.

We cannot avoid death. It overshadows all our lives. We live longer than our grandparents we are better fed we lose fewer babies. Vaccines protect us from once-feared epidemics hi-tech hospitals save tiny preemies and patients in need of a new kidney or heart. But we are still mortal. And even if we have been successful in warding off plagues that decimated earlier generations, we have no lack of our own - from suicide, abortion, divorce, and addiction to racism, poverty, violence, and militarism. We live, as Pope John Paul II has said, in a culture of death.

It is also a culture of fear. Fearing old age, we hide our elderly in nursing homes. Fearing crime, we protect ourselves with guns and locked doors. Fearing people who don't look like us or earn as much, we move into segregated or "gated" neighbourhoods. Fearing other nations, we impose sanctions and drop bombs. We are even afraid of our own offspring, turning our schools into virtual prisons, and our prisons into holding pens and morgues. Add to all these anxieties several more that are driving millions to distraction: terrorism, bio-warfare, and planes falling out of the sky.

With eight children, and some two dozen grandchildren, I know what it is like to ponder the future and be scared. Having stood at the bedside of dying friends and relatives - and having fought alongside them - I also have an inkling of what it means to face death. More important, I have seen the peace that radiates from those who have not only battled their fears, but found strength to overcome them.

Ordinary men and women, they had their share of bad days, struggles, obstacles, and low moments. They cried they were scared they needed reassurance.