“I . . . drove to another part of town where my aunt lived. I came to see her, thinking it would probably be the last time I would see her before she died . . . She was in a wheelchair, wearing a faded housedress. Her hair was gray and stringy; her muscles, atrophied; her skin, like a baby bird’s, thin and translucent to where you could see the embroidery of her veins. She was frail and looked as if she would break if you hugged her. I hugged her, and she didn’t. But she didn’t recognize me either. She babbled incoherently, repeating a series of syllables. I tried talking to her, telling her that Judy and the kids said hello and give their best, but she just mumbled on, the same syllables going round and round like a warped record stuck in a groove . . .
“When she dies, she will take the family’s entire history with her. When she dies, there will be no one left to tell the families’ stories . . . One by one, the others who remembered had died. Heart attack. Stroke. Heart attack. Now Alzheimer’s.
“She couldn’t do anything for herself. Couldn’t dress herself, feed herself, bathe herself. She was like a baby, only a baby that weighed something like ninety pounds, which made dressing her and bathing her and putting her to bed an exhausting ordeal. Her babbling was like a baby’s too, except at time the tone was insistent, even angry . . .
“As I got into my car, tears pooled in my eyes. So this is how it all ends. This is how we slip out of this world, with all the limitations of a baby but with none of its loveliness. Every day losing a little bit of our motor skills and a little bit more of our minds. Every day losing more of our balance and losing more control of our bowels. Every day losing a little something else until at last there’s little else to lose except life itself . . .
“‘It is better to go to a house of mourning that to go to a house of feasting,’ said Solomon, ‘for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take it to heart’ . . .
“The truth is, that is the way of all flesh. The truth is, that person in the wheelchair who babbles on and can’t remember will be me someday if I live long enough. Or it will be someone I love. My mother, maybe. Or maybe my wife.
“It seems so sad that it all comes down to this. Oh, I know. I know there’s resurrection. I know we get new bodies. I know that death will be defeated, that all our tears will be wiped away. I know all that, I believe all that. But knowing and believing didn’t make that day any less sad for me, didn’t take away the sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach, didn’t take away the depression that I felt at the futility of it all, or the anger I felt at seeing a whole life wearing down to a housedress of flesh and bones that can’t remember” (Ken Gires, Windows of the Soul, p. 139-141).
Via the Internet, I heard John Piper preach a sermon boldly entitled, “You Will Never See Death.” No bolder than Jesus’ words from where it came “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (John 8:51). Wow! Are we spared death’s pain? Does Jesus come at the moment of our dying and snatch us into his presence? Well, yes. But, no, we may not be spared suffering.
Lois’ father died of a heart attack. He fell immediately unconscious, was put on a respirator, and, as far as I know, never suffered. My brother also had a heart attack. His son tried to resuscitate him. Did he feel pain before he fell unconscious? Both my parents died suffering. Especially my father. Lois’ mother, however, slipped peacefully away. We sadly watched her “fall asleep”.
We’d prefer instant death or “falling asleep”. But, we don’t get to choose. Only God does.
Solomon was right. Unless Jesus returns first, we will each go the way of all flesh. And it may mean suffering. Let the wise take it to heart. We can’t presume that the path to our Lord’s presence will be painless. Knowing that won’t remove the sadness, depression or anger. But, by God’s grace, it may ease them.
But Jesus’ words dare us to hope, dare us to take Solomon’s words with a ray of light. ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death”. Our body may die painfully, but Jesus will snatch our soul/spirit into his presence. We will never see death! We will be away from this old body, but at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Ken Gire’s aunt? No, we don’t want to think that may be us. But it may be. Christ doesn’t promise us freedom from suffering (though he may mercifully give it). But he does promise ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death.” When our body is finally wasting away, we’ll slip from it snatched from death into his presence.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
about those who have died,
so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)