As an R.N., I have witnessed death many times in the hospital environment. Most of the time, the person was elderly, infirm and was fortunate to have their family at the bedside. Others were not so blessed. Their passing was marked only by the beeping of IV machines and heart monitors as the rest of the staff hustled about their business. Naturally, it takes on a whole new dimension when it’s one of your own.
My father died in April, 2000, three weeks after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He was seventy-three, in nearly perfect health his entire life but had recently exhibited strange behaviors. These included some cognitive memory and speech errors, but were not so severe as to cause alarm. He simply thought it was a result of getting older.
One Saturday, his symptoms worsened dramatically and Mom rushed him to the emergency room. After ruling out a stroke, the doctors discovered the culprit—a massive brain tumor. They advised that he had three to four months to live, and with major surgery, perhaps six.
I am so grateful that I was able to be present to support Mom as the doctors delivered the bad news. Strangely, both of us told the doctor at the same instant, “No surgery.” Since he was terminal, we wanted to make his last days as comfortable as possible so we arranged for in-home hospice care.
When Mom told him the news, he rolled his eyes, and muttered, “Mess, mess, mess!” I sat on the side of the bed with tears coursing down my face, and said, “Darn it Daddy, you get to go home, and we’re stuck here.”
You see, my family members are all long time Christians and we understand how precious the death of a child of God is. Yes, we mourn and weep, but we also have the certain hope and expectation of seeing that loved one again and enjoying their company forever. Believe me, it makes ALL the difference.
2 Cornithians 5:8 (ESV) states, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
In Revelation 21:4,5 (ESV) we are promised, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying not pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”
This wonderful hope has been presented to the followers of Christ, free of charge, purchased with his own blood. All we have to do is accept it. My father accepted it and died in a wonderful, peaceful manner.
In his final three weeks, we were able to gather extended family and friends to say their goodbyes. He so appreciated the chance to give his love and receive theirs. It also gave us, his immediate family, time to hug, kiss and tell him the things that were on our hearts. It was a bittersweet time indeed.
Now, I know for certain the medications he was on were not hallucinogenic in any fashion. As he began to fade he would tell Mom there were two people, a man and a woman, who were waiting for him. “They’re just so nice. They’re waiting to escort me home.” Mom would ask where they were and he would point to the foot of the bed and say, “They’re right there, can’t you see them?”
As the end neared and his moments of being awake dwindled, he would tell her, with a look of pure joy on his face, that he could hear heaven’s music. “I can hear all the singing; it’s so beautiful. I want to sing all over heaven too!”
He stepped into God’s kingdom with anticipation and a peaceful sigh. We were filled with grief, but, oddly enough, an amazing amount of joy also. There was laughter as well as crying in the limousine on the way to the funeral and we were afraid the driver would think we were nuts! We were celebrating Dad’s final promotion, knowing for certain we would be reunited one day.
The grace of God that swirled around us during those difficult days was almost tangible. I cannot imagine facing the death of a loved one without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. How horrible to lose someone without the certainty of ever seeing them again. Philippians 4:7 (ESV) assures us, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Did it ever!
Dad did not leave this life scratching and clawing to stay alive, nor did we selfishly demand he undergo painful, futile surgery just so we could have him to ourselves a little longer. I hope when my time comes to go “home”, I will go as gracefully as he did. I miss him every day, but that’s OK. Really. He’s having the time of his life!