Facing Eternity – Saying Good-Bye
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
Clarence had been married 51 years when he lost his dear wife, Clarice. “It was cancer that took her,” he said, as he clenched his jaw and tears filled his eyes.
Like a bitter enemy, cancer took from Clarence the dearest thing to him. The bitterness was evident and distressing for his two daughters and son to witness.
Facing death without hope
It had been two years since Clarice had died. There was no denying that Clarence had not gotten over the loss, but little was said of it. The bitter wounds left by this cancer-incised death were never addressed.
So needless to say no one was quite prepared for the news the doctor delivered to Clarence at his yearly check-up: “You have cancer and there is nothing we can do. You have about six months to live.”
Not only was Clarence going to be taken down, but by the same enemy that took his dear Clarice. The bitterness was overwhelming, and the sorrow became fuel for both his passivity and stubbornness. Clarence immediately went into hospice care without a word of objection. In fact, upon entering the facility he never spoke again. He simply stared out the window, at the wall, or at anything but a mirror.
The doctors weren’t exactly right about Clarence. He didn’t make it six months. In fact, he made it about one week past three months. He had no fight, provided no words, gave no hope, no witness, no comfort.
Not everyone is given a timeline for their own death. Many die suddenly of a stroke, heart attack, or accident. Medical advances, however, have allowed people to live longer. Doctors are learning more about what ails us and they can better estimate what maladies can be treated, where the risks are, and what the probability of survival is. An increasing number of people, however, actually do get a timeline for their own death.
Remember the story of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1-5)? God gave him 15 more years of life. I would imagine the first 14 years went pretty much as usual. But what do you imagine the last year was like? How does one prepare both to meet God and say goodbye to loved ones?
Someone once said that you should live each day as though you will die tomorrow and face death knowing you will live forever. It is easier to say than practice. Like Clarence, there are many people who feel cheated by death. They are angry at their circumstance, at themselves, and even at God for their approaching death. As we all instinctively do, they measure life by what is lost or missing. They find little cause for thankfulness and praises in approaching death.
Clarence’s case also raised interesting challenges for his children. How do you say “good-bye” to someone who won’t talk to you? How do you prepare yourself to lose a loved one?
Facing death with faith
Both the dying person and the survivors have a responsibility to face death in a manner that reflects their conviction about God and His value for life. Remember, even when walking around in good health God reminds us that because of sin we are dead (Ephesians 2:1). All our success, all our prosperity, all our health, and all our pleasure received in this life is nothing because sin destroyed everything. Our days are like grass that whither in nature (1 Peter 1:24).
Death is that inevitable and sad reality that resulted from sin (Romans 6:23). Death escapes no one. The rich, the poor, the wise, the foolish – everyone will die (Ecclesiastes 2:16).
It is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, who changed what death means. Through faith in Jesus as our Savior, death is not the end but the transition to eternal life (John 10:10). No matter how wonderful or how painful physical life has been, a Christian’s death marks a point of improvement (Revelation 7:14-16). Even the beleaguered Job from the Old Testament spoke boldly of how his pain-racked body would be restored after death (Job 19:25,26). It is this conviction that prompted the Apostle Paul to say that death has no sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).
So when you are dying, the promises of God’s Word have not changed, but have special pertinence at this time. The bold singing of God’s praises in hymns of hope and promise can still be there. The earnest support of God’s work on earth can still be there. The tireless witnessing of the eternity that lies ahead can still go on. But it is the diagnosis of death that actually becomes a wonderful forum to talk about life everlasting.
Some have used their dying moments to guilt consciences and to act vengefully towards those who perhaps were not kind to them in better times. Why? First of all, any attitude designed to hurt others is contrary to God’s will. Second, our society is more attentive to the words of someone who has few remaining. Why not use that time well by carrying the Christian mission of witnessing and loving?
Saying good-bye when facing death
There is a reality about death that is undeniable. When a loved one dies people very much measure what they have lost. Those who are closest to the deceased feel especially empty. As a person who is facing final months and days on this earth, never lose sight of the fact that as you move on to be with the Lord, others will be measuring your passing. Share with those who will survive you the joy you have in Christ and the salvation that is yours. Share with them your optimism and confidence about what God has secured for you. Make amends and be an arrow pointing heavenward.
For those who measure each passing day as they watch a loved one die, there are also things to remember in how to say “good-bye.” First, remember the dying person’s welfare – both spiritual and physical. Creating trauma, opening old family wounds, complaining all compromise the opportunity you have at this moment. Remember, as your loved dies he or she is concerned about your welfare for the future. Assure your loved one that all will be well. Especially, however, remind your loved one of your shared faith in Christ as the Savior. Provide them the hope of a heavenly reunion.
To paraphrase someone who once spoke of losing a young daughter, “We mourn, not that she has left us, but that we cannot yet go along.” It is that type of optimism, assurance, and testimony that makes the closing moments incredibly impacting on the lives of others.
From the moment you came to faith, God called you to be a witness to Him. In the way you say “goodbye” you can be that witness, as a bright shining light of hope in what otherwise is considered a dark moment.
CLR NOTE: This is the third of a four-part series on end-of-life issues.
May 4, 2018
September 9, 2018