if you have recently lost a loved one… or if you are walking the end-of-life journey with someone right now, this post might come across a little insensitive. i’m sorry. the last thing in the world i would ever want to do is make your struggle more difficult. it definitely won’t hurt my feelings if you skip reading this today. we’re friends. i’ll get over it.
i have had the honor of being near a number of people as they walked through death’s door. it happened again this week, as i lost a good friend. he was 70 years old. his two wives had already preceded him in death. i’m sure he had outlived most of his friends. pretty sure that’s what happens when you reach a great old age.
as it nearly always is, the moment of death was difficult for the family that was present…especially the ones who were younger. the instant when the last breath is taken can never be fully prepared for. no matter how many times i witness it, there are no words to adequately describe the feelings. it is overwhelming.
i’ve read about…and even personally shared…in the end-of-life experience in another culture. i think many of them do it better than we do. most of the deaths i have shared here in our culture are strangely awkward. and horribly undignified. this person who was once full of personality and emotion and life, is reduced to a shell…sometimes barely hanging on for days or weeks or even longer.
the tent that once housed purpose and vision and love and faith is now empty and void. it is often very ugly. sometimes the person appears grotesque and looks nothing like what we remember. some will say there is a quiet beauty found in the passing of life to death. i’m probably not one of those.
so many times i have reminded family and friends their loved one is no longer there. the essence of what made them human is gone…the body has been drained of its intention. the soul and the spirit has gone to its final destination. and that moment…that realization…is shocking.
some run from the moment. they shut down. they close off. they move quickly to another place where the feelings can be suppressed or denied. they will tell you that things are ok, but you they are not. these folks need kindness and patience and room.
others emote uncontrollably. the shock and sadness is almost too much to bear. for some, IT IS too much and it takes years and years to reconcile their loss…if they ever do.
still others seem to move comfortably through the various stages of grief and go on about life in a healthy way.
no matter what our feelings and response to the death moment, it is screaming for us to take notice. for the one who has died, there is no more time to make changes. there is no chance to make amends. life and opportunities and potentials are over. whatever was done and however life was lived, eternity’s possibilities are now closed.
but not for the living.
as long as there is breath, there is time. time to make things right. time to answer questions and face doubts. time to wrestle with issues of faith and reason. time to decide if life is nothing more than a superficial crapshoot or a reality that is potentially full of purpose and design and worth and fulfillment that flows from the heart of a creator.
when we are teenagers, death is what happens in the movies or on video games (unless we are shocked into reality by an untimely passing). when we are in our 20s, 30s and even our 40s, we live as if we are invincible. work and family demand nearly everything our puny hearts can muster. death is simply not an option (unless, again, we are shocked into reality by an untimely passing).
when you get into your 50s and beyond, death cannot be ignored. for crying out loud, people younger than me are dying all the time these days. and though it is sometimes a surprise, nobody is ever really shocked. 58 year-old guys die all the time.
i’m 59, btw.
death will never be my friend. when it comes, i hope i look like i have a little dignity left. or at least i’m still listening to some rock and roll in my earphones. but the reality is, if i hold on long enough, i probably won’t have much control over what i look like or what i’m doing. (chris and corey…accept my apologies now.)
but i have no fear. my confidence is in god’s word and his promises that have proved true time and time again over the course of my life. there is no doubt that jesus came to give me life. death will merely be a change of venue. how cool is that?
so what about you? if you’re reading this, you’ve still got time to make things right. what’s stopping you?