Death is the one thing that all people in this world have in common. Death is inevitable for us all, irrespective of our status. And death is the one subject we all try to avoid, but eventually have to face head-on.
Only a Christian can look death in the face with a smile. But, watching a loved one gradually leave this world is never easy.
In April 2017, I visited a number of times, along with my wife, the hospice where my dear mother-in-law, Jean, was to spend her last few days. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and, just nine and a half weeks later, she entered ‘the land of pure delight; where saints immortal reign’ (Isaac Watts hymn).
A hospice is never an easy place to visit. I don’t particularly like hospitals, but at least the majority of those patients will be coming home again.
The hospice, on the other hand, is generally the final place for patients to spend their remaining earthly days. It was never easy visiting the hospice knowing that dear, precious souls were leaving this world without gospel truth embedded in their heart.
It was heartbreaking too as we watched Jean grow weaker and weaker. Many tears were shed as we dwelt on all the wonderful memories we had shared together.
I had never really experienced this scenario before in my life. I was being taught new lessons. I was experiencing the presence of God in a unique and special way. This helped me to deal with the sadness and pain, as I watched and gazed into her loving eyes.
I felt so helpless in this environment, but I knew that the sovereignty of God was at work here. Christ’s glory was on display in the face of one of his precious children.
I thought of how Jesus had wept at the grave of Lazarus, knowing that he would yet be raised from the dead. I had the assurance that the Lord sympathised with my wife and I; he is indeed the God of all comfort, and we both felt his comfort at this difficult time.
Jean was one who knew Jesus Christ as her Saviour and Lord. She possessed a sure and certain hope of an eternity in the presence of Christ. You could see the peace and calm on her sweet face.
She joined the ranks who line up as trophies of grace. Death was, for her, a gateway to heaven; her dying opened up that porthole to a ‘far better country’. Her life had been lived devoted to her Saviour and her beloved family. A number of times, Jean had quietly whispered, ‘I want to go; please let me go’.
I wonder now what glimpses she was then being given by the Lord of the glorious prospect of heaven that lay ahead. One wonders just what privileges are granted to the dying Christian. There were moments when I so wished to exchange places with her, so I could discover this for myself. My time will surely come.
My wife and I sang many songs at her bedside, a couple of days before she died. Apart from one or two secular songs that Jean liked, the songs were mainly spiritual. I couldn’t help but wonder if Jean was pleading to go due to my singing!
My wife, like Jean, is very musical, and has an exceptional singing voice. You could see the tears rolling down Jean’s face. No doubt they were tears of sadness that she could no longer sing, yet mingled with tears of joy as she comprehended the truths of those lovely Christian songs. We sang heartfelt renditions of ‘In Christ alone’ and ‘How great Thou art’, which I am sure were heard by others within the hospice.
Before we left, Jean wished us a safe journey home. How loving and caring she remained till the end. She was always sacrificial in her living, and in her dying she was no different. It reminded me of Jesus upon the cross when he was making provision for his mother. Jean followed the example of her Saviour to the end.
We indeed had a safe journey home. Jean also had a safe journey home. John Wesley said of the many Christians in his movement, 250 years ago: ‘Our people die well’! Now I know what he meant; I had witnessed the same for myself.
Yes, we still grieve very much for her earthly loss, but it is a ‘good grief’, since we know that Jean is ‘forever with the Lord’. If, in this life, you turn from your sin to the Saviour, you too can know that death will be, for you, the gateway to heaven.
Barry Loeber is a member of Gateway Baptist Church, Burgess Hill