Many years ago I was a nurse on a medical ward where death was often the end result of a long illness. Of course not every patient was elderly. There were instances where leukemia, some other cancer or cystic fibrosis caused death in those who hadn’t yet begun to live. At those times death seemed an enemy to be resisted and fought with every available means. It made me angry.
In the case of my own father who passed away in 2003, it seemed more like a reprieve. He had suffered congestive heart failure, a heart attack, and a fall that broke his hip. He would have ended up in a Nursing Home on leaving the hospital, with advancing dementia stealing away his ability to relate to the people who loved him. We couldn’t help but be thankful that he was spared that. I was more relieved than angry.
My mother couldn’t attend his funeral because she was in the hospital herself at the time. Her illness was terminal and when she was discharged she came to live with us for her final weeks. She was losing her battle with a very aggressive cancer and didn’t have a lot of time left. In her case, death was expected and so she was able to prepare. She put her trust in Jesus and dealt with the things she thought of as unfinished. She did her best to say the things she’d left unsaid for years. She always loved Christmas so each child and grandchild received a $500 cheque to buy a Christmas gift from her. Then we all had to parade them into her room to show her what she’d bought for us. She also loved to laugh so when one of my brothers brought her a tape of an incredibly silly song about a ‘Colo-rectal Surgeon’ she insisted on playing it for every personal support worker and nurse who came to the house. She even played it for the doctor who fortunately had a wonderful sense of humor himself.
I hated the disease that killed her and I still do. It was pretty terrible in the end and I was back to being angry as I watched what was happening to her. I took a lot of comfort in the verse that God gave me then. It was the one that says “these light and momentary troubles will seem like nothing in comparison to the glory that is in store for those who believe”. Hard to fathom that what she was going through would seem insignificant to her when she reached her destination but it was true nevertheless. I knew Jesus was waiting for her. I was with her when she took her last breath and I remember imagining her running to Him. In His arms she would finally be experiencing perfect, complete, unconditional love, and the sort of freedom she never knew in this life. Death was only a door. A part of me felt just a little envious.
My experience with death, particularly my mother’s death, has washed away any fear I might have felt back when I thought of it as an enemy. I have an idea of what is waiting for me. I don’t know if I will have the chance to deal with unfinished business when it is my turn so instead I will live my life so that I don’t have regrets. I will say the things that are important to say. I will cherish each moment, even the hard ones. I will do the best I can with all that God has given me. I will endeavor to love well because I am well loved. That’s all any of us can do.