- In recent days and weeks, a dark ribbon of strangeness has circled our lives–Jerry’s and mine, (as it has some of yours) but then perhaps it is not strange, for now we are older, and is it not common among older folk that friends and relatives suffer and sicken, even to the point of death? But today came word of the fatal accident of a younger one, a grown child of a friend of ours, and while we were in the Bay Area last week, we learned of one of Jerry’s young colleagues who has announced to his church that cancer has invaded his lymph system. Yesterday drove the funeral procession of a minister who long years ago was a part of our church in Garden Grove; next Thursday is a funeral for a minister we have known for decades, and on Friday a memorial service will flare tribute to one of our dearest friends, also a minister. For years he and Jerry served on church organizational boards. They assisted with the production of innumerable conferences, seminars and evangelistic meetings. Our children attended youth camps at the same time, and more than once our families played and vacationed together.
- Too soon, it seems, our journey here is over. With notable exception we shrink from death, sparing our minds and emotions, guarding our health, obeying the doctor, swallowing our pill, hoping to push away the inevitable. It’s a strange thing, this reaction to death among believers, for do we not expect life after death to be beautiful, to be perfect, to be lived in the presence of God? Perhaps it is the going, the crossing, the wide river; and though we have faith in God and in His Word, there is decided mystery that envelops the traveler. “Aloneness” beyond comprehension is his wrap, his tightly pulled cloak. Contrary from birth and its silver promise is this leaden finality, the finality of death. Neither in the dying room, nor in hospital chambers are balloons or banners or celebration. Elated faces are not seen. “Death is never pretty,” one of my wise sons reminded me yesterday.
- Business. Is our business finished? Should we not live every day so that at the morning and at the evening we may ask The Question; Am I ready? Are my affairs in order? For be assured, there is no defeating death, there is no holding back the pale. No bloodied limb can stay his progress, no strength or brawn will prevail. With sure hand, he raps the door of both the pauper and of the king. Pray our leaving is with joy.
- There is a strange sort of separation and quiet as a person lies dying: I’ve been near a few who wrangled with death. Giftings are gone. Power has eluded the hand. As though encased in thickened glass, the leaving is done. The earthy is finished. The eternal is.
I write of crystal and china and napkin rings and apple pie; of candles and pictures and little boats on water and Tinkertoys and cold and heat; of accomplishment and the search for pleasure and, perhaps, of fulfillment and satisfaction. Trivia, all. Beautiful trivia, harmless trivia, yet, trivia.
…my friends die, and in a few days is the funeral. Others stand at the brink, and in short hours Jerry and I will go to his bed, where we will discreetly–or not discreetly– cry, and where we will hug and kiss…and where we will pray…for a safe passage…and for eternal security, for him and for us.
…one of my sons called this morning–the one who for long years foolishly bowed to the god of this world–called to say he would this morning be teaching his first Sunday school class, and how nervous he was, and how excited. He told again of functions he attended “before” and where on occasion, he gathers yet, and of his changed role, and of his transformed image. While there, he looks about. He smiles. He is no judge, except for gratitude.
…”how do you respond to the Word of God?” asked the preacher, where, here in Phoenix yesterday afternoon, we attended a church dedication. How indeed? How do I respond?
…sad, we are, Jerry and I, here in our hotel room this morning. For slashed as a silver sword through a dark world is the life of our friend, and then he is gone, and then, so are we.
“…It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
In January of 2008, I wrote a column (the first paragraph of which is below) and posted this picture of Pastor Walton Combs and his precious wife, Mabel. Yesterday, the death angel carried away Mabel, and she is now resting in the everlasting arms of Jesus. My prayers and love go out to her family and to the church in Casa Grande.
Rev. Walton Combs and his wife Mabel of Casa Grande, Az. have been active in our churches for decades…and have literally given their lives for the Gospel. Now they are aged, and his health is broken. Today I want to honor these two beautiful people and, by association, all elderly people of God.
Remainder of the article here.
The past week has been a wretched one for many people with whom in one way or another I have a certain connection, even if such bond only encompasses the relationship of one human being to another. There have come Hurricane Ike and its taking of lives, and such savage property destruction that it will strike a toll numbering into the multiplied billions of dollars; the catastrophic train accident in the Los Angeles area–worst train crash in the history of the area–;the untimely death of Justin Jones, a young man of 30 years old–the son of my friend, Dayna. Death is awful–repugnant and unrepentant.
But in finality death never wins. At the last, death dies.
For after death, we all “small and great, stand before God;” And at that final judgment, “…death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Rev. 20: 12 (portions) and 14
I am fond of the poetry of John Donne, so much so that I recall when I first read his poem Death. I’m in Crestline today, and this afternoon I sat in a comfortable chair and read again these beautiful words. I hope they will comfort you at this moment. I wish too, for both John Donne’s words and John the Revelator’s words to lance your soul with conviction and with spiritual examination…as they have mine.
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:
For those whom thou think’st thou doest overthrow Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From Rest and Sleep, which by thy picture be, Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go–Rest of their bones and souls’ delivery!
Thou’rst slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, and dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!
(The names of my friends are pseudonyms)
Although I am an early riser, it was unusual to awake at 3:30 and not be able to return to sleep. I could hear that Jerry was restless, too, but thought he would probably go back to sleep. I flipped a bit, looked at the clock twice, then finally a few minutes until it would be 4:00, threw aside the covers, went to the study, did a little research and wrote a column.
My phone rang: The time was 6:30.
“Shirley, this is Alana.” She paused, then blurted out the words, “Pat died.” Her voice broke, then she went on. “At 4:30. She died at 4:30 this morning. Nick and I are down here now.”
Nick and Alana live near us in Crestline, as did Pat and Barney. It was not an unexpected death.
Jerry came into the study about that time and I told him of Pat’s death. A fully scheduled day was ahead of us; the motor home which we had driven over from Lake Havasu and parked down in San Bernardino was to be at Colton Truck Terminal at 8:00 for a repair, and Jerry was fasting, as he was to have an early morning blood-draw. We quickly loaded the car, locked the house, and drove down to Barney and Pat’s.
Is there anyone who is misled by the thought that because a death is fully expected it must be easier to bear, or because the end was considered inevitable the grief is somehow mitigated? Can it be a valid consideration that fewer tears will be shed because Hospice was in attendance, and that doctors had said the end would be soon? Where on the allowable grief meter is a reading from the day before, when in frustration and unknowable discomfort, having fallen from her wheelchair, Pat said to Barney, “Why don’t you just unplug my oxygen?”
The house is a large, expensive one, framed by tall oaks and stately pines that, amazingly, despite the death angel’s having passed still liberally emitted their familiar pungent and soothing green scent. A magnificent view of the lake was Barney’s backdrop as he wilted on a bar stool, still in pajamas, a light robe open and falling about him. He lifted our way, glazed, pitiful eyes, and I saw he was a boy, a little boy in trouble. Help me…can you? Can anyone? Wordless, he pled.
Barney is a large, handsome, sixty-something man, with white hair, and a full beard. I encircled him with my arms, and as he shuddered, I whispered, “I’m sorry, Barney. I’m sorry.” After a minute, I walked away and Jerry moved in to add comfort to our neighbor.
The hospital bed was stripped to the mattress, two attendants were there, writing on what I supposed were medical charts, and Nick was drinking coffee. Alana’s eyes welled often with tears.
Where is Pat? I wondered. Had her body already been taken?
No one said. The skinny dog jumped into my lap, and I petted his nervous little being.
There was a lump of bedclothes on the floor just beyond the chair where I sat. Is that Pat?
No one said.
I wanted to ascertain, wanted to turn about and stare at the pillow and blankets behind me, but I didn’t. We are acquaintances, not close friends, and I did not want to offend with a thoughtless question or gesture.
An attendant walked to the lump, pulled back the blanket, and combed the front of Pat’s hair. I turned my head that way now, and watched, as, on finishing the ministration, she again covered Pat’s face and head with an ivory colored blanket.
After a while, I walked to the pallet, drew back the cover and looked into the cold face of my friend. Her body was full, not emaciated, but with his marker, Death had figured her face. He had drawn away her breath, leaving an enigma, for never entirely comprehended is the process of passing from this life into another.
Before leaving, we all gathered about Barney, and Jerry prayed a beautiful prayer of hope and comfort. “Let us learn to lean on You, Jesus.”
Hours later, I discussed the incident with Jerry and Rebecca, expressing my distress at Pat’s being left on the floor; it didn’t seem right. Her body should have been placed in the bed and arranged nicely, not covered up–a lump near the edge of the room. I was quick to acknowledge there to be only an atmosphere of love in the house, with no sense of ill feelings or friction. Pat and Barney had a wonderful marriage of nearly 40 years.
“Maybe that’s the way she wanted it,” Rebecca said.
“Maybe so,” I had to agree, although I find it hard to believe.
“Don’t leave me on the floor if I fall dead, Rebecca,” I ordered. “Pick me up and put me on the couch or in the bed.”
And I do know that of no concern to the death-slashed is the display of the emptied body, for it is only that; a package, a box, a house for the soul; an eternal entity that now awaits judgment.
My devotional blog is here.