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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Death & Dying: My View

In my chosen profession I am with people as they prepare for death and with families after they lose a loved one.  Often I hear "How can you do that?"  "Isn't it depressing?"  and my answer is no, in fact I find it rewarding and I am honored to have the opportunity to serve in this manner.

My first experience with death was difficult.  I occurred nine days before my ninth birthday.  I was given the news no child wants to hear.  My dad had died.  It was not totally unexpected.  He had been critically ill for six weeks and mom had been preparing my brother and I for the news she knew was coming, daddy would not be coming home from the hospital. While the news was sad and I was overcome with grief  I did find comfort in the words she used and the ones she didn't use in giving us the news.  I think the way she told us prepared me for this special work God had planned for me.

It was a Monday afternoon May 22, 1967.  As the bus drove by our house to drop us off at the bus stop I immediately knew this was not going to be a normal day.  I saw the cars of relatives and friends in the driveway and lining the street near the house.  As we entered the house all eyes turned towards us and the silence noticeable.  One of my relatives, I can remember which one, hugged us and took us to our mom who was seated in the "Kings Chair".  We sat on her lap and she explained that God only loans people to us, some for a very long time and others for a very short time and that our dad was only loaned to us for a very short time.

With those words she told us that life on this earth is limited and death is a reality of life.  A sad reality but none the less a reality.  But what she did not say was just as powerful.  She never tried to offer an explanation as  to why God only loans some to us for a short time.  That was smart as even the bible does not explain why God chooses to call people home when He does. I have since learned that God has a plan and knows far more than you and I.  I trust in His plan and accept it even when it hurts and causes me pain. But how I came to understand and accept that is another story.

Over the years I had a yearning to study the bible and find out more about our earthly death and what happens after we leave this earth.  The verse that I find the most comforting and hopeful is the Gospel of John, Chapter 14: 1-6 (ESV).

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

These verses contain three promises.  Here is my understanding of the promises.

First, that there is more than enough room for each of us in heaven.  When it comes time for God to call our name we do not have to worry about being greeted by a “No Vacancy” sign.  Our reservation was made when Jesus died on the cross, all we have to do is be willing to accept His wonderful gift.  When I think of this promise I am reminded of the old Motel Six commercial where Tom Bodett promises to leave a light on for us.  I like to think there is a light at the gates of heaven that awaits us.  This analogy actually has a biblical basis.  In Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, John tells us that “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

Now the second promise is amazing to me.  Jesus promises to prepare a place for us.  I am not sure about you but I have never had a place prepared especially for me.  I remember buying my first house, it was nice house but other than getting to decide if I wanted crown molding and a fireplace the house was pretty much like the other houses in the neighborhood. It was not prepared especially for me.  Now we have the Son of God, who in his earthly life was a carpenter by trade, promising to prepare a special place just for us. I believe Jesus was a carpenter to let us know that God creates beautiful and wonderful things.  Earlier in my pastoral career I would try paint a picture of what we may expect our eternal home to be like but then I realized that I am limited by my earthly vocabulary and we are all limited by our earthly imaginations.  We cannot possibly describe or imagine the majesty of our eternal home.   What we do know is that there is no suffering, no pain and no word that means goodbye.


The final and in my opinion the most comforting promise is that when God calls our name that Jesus will come and take us there himself.  I have had the honor to be with people during their final hours and it is not unusual for them to say “it is time”, “I’m ready” or “they are here”.  In John Ramsey’s book “The Other Side of Suffering” he writes of the death of his wife Patsy.  She was in a coma, she opened her eyes and had a wondrous expression on her face as if she was seeing something magnificent.  She then closed her eyes and died. I believe she opened her eyes to see our Savior.   This story and my experiences is proof to me that Jesus keeps His promise. We can find comfort in knowing that when God called our name, we will not be alone but that we have the opportunity to be in the comforting and loving arms of Jesus.

Since I was told of my dad's death so many years ago I have come to learn that death is a fact of life that must be embraced. 

I believe that death is a temporary separation and we all have the opportunity to be reunited in Heaven. I tell my children that when it comes time for me to be called home it is ok to be sad because they will miss me but do not cry for me as I will be in a place where there is no suffering, no pain and no word that mean goodbye. 

 I am not rushing death as I still want to be around to see my daughter marry and know all of my grandchildren but whenever my time comes it will be without regret or sadness and with joy as  I will finally meet my two brothers who past before I was born and be reunited with my loved ones who went before me. From my perspective it will be a time to celebrate.  Its all in God's time not mine.