Jeannine Brenner 644
428 Rabbit Hill Lane
Lancaster, PA 17603
WHEN A LOVED ONE DIES
by Jeannine Brenner
Quietly, treading stealthily, death comes. The labored breathing becomes
slower and slower, each breath seeming to be the last. But then there is another -
a pause, and another, a longer pause, and then a long, long pause. Finally all is
quiet. I lay waiting beside the one who has been my loved one for almost 50
years, but there is nothing more. I know he is gone. There is only silence, and I
He who has always been the wind beneath my sails, who believed in me
when I did not believe in myself, is gone. He was the one who gave me
encouragement and lifted me up when my spirits faltered. Yet in his last hours I
was unable to comfort him. His mental suffering and fear were pure agony for
him and for me. All that I could say about God’s promises and the hope we have
of new life failed to bring him peace, even though he had always been a strong
My words, words I have spoken often in my years as an ordained
clergy, seemed inadequate and trite – empty spiritual clichés. The pain of this
knowledge is like a knife cutting across my chest as I lie beside the empty shell
that once housed my husband’s life, and I, too, am bombarded with doubt and
uncertainties, with questions that are unanswered. What if all we have been
taught from childhood about the Christian faith and life eternal has been just a
myth, a fairy tale? WHAT IF IT ISN’T SO?
My daughter is waiting in the lounge for me to tell her it is over. I ring the
bell attached to the side of his bed. Help comes. Lights are turned on and my
daughter enters the room. There are no words for us to say to each other. It is
over. We have kept our vigil. His eyes are already closed, but the confirmation
of death is recorded. The appropriate people are called. There is a flurry of
movement as they arrive. I wait until they come out of the room with his body,
and then I bend over to touch it once again. But it is only the casing. The one I
love is no longer here.
There are no tears now, only hollowness within and bitter, painful sorrow.
But then, unbidden, the familiar words of the Psalmist come to my mind as
though they are a gift from God. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, thou art with me.” I may not have the answers, but still I will
chose to believe. Death can be a terrifying experience, even for those who are
believers. In spite of our promises of hope, what lies beyond that dark door of
death remains a mystery, an unknown to all. Christ himself agonized over his
own impending death, so is it any wonder that we, too, may want to cling to what
is known and familiar.
If we knew what was on the other side of the curtain of death, then we
would have no need for faith, for after all, isn’t that what faith is all about –
believing what we do not know. The author of Hebrews says this. “What is
faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is
the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (11:1). Therefore I can say with
certainty words I have said so many times as words of committal, “O death, where
is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory. Thanks be to God who gives us the
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