Vale of TearsMaking a Good Death
Making a good Death
“Some day,” D. L. Moody used to say, “you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now!”
Watching someone approaching the end of their days with faith and equanimity is one of the most sacred experiences in life. Heaven is close at hand as the person awaits their homecoming to a glory that will far surpass even the most amazing sunset. As the sun sets on one phase of our life, so it will emerge again in another, better place.
A long-term friend of ours, Sally, has recently gone to be with her Lord. After fighting her way bravely through many years of struggles and anxieties, a deep peace settled on her when incurable lymphoid cancer set in. Her main concern was for her unsaved elderly mother, who would not be able to care for herself. With unmatchable precision the Lord drew all the threads together. Her mother went to be with the Lord just four days after making a commitment to Him – and Sally followed her almost immediately afterwards.
Following the first death in his mission, Rees Howells, the great intercessor, declared at her funeral:
“Have you ever heard of a person who is dying shaking hands with everyone, as though she was going on a journey?” The heavens opened and the victory was such that they all started waving their handkerchiefs – even the mourners had to join in . . . The sad grave was turned to be the gate of heaven, and from that funeral we had the beginning of resurrection life in the mission.7
All too many in our fear-bound society lack the benefit of such a spiritual perspective – something that was epitomised by the ignominy a mother of a still-born baby had to endure when an insensitive health professional called back over her shoulder as she swept the body away, “It’s not as if you knew her, is it?” How anyone can make such callous remarks to a woman who has just spent nine months cherishing a precious life within their womb is beyond me.
At the same time as challenging such insensitivity, it is honouring to recognise good models of care. Many hospitals have effective pastoral support for bereaved parents. As far back as the 1980’s, Blackburn Infirmary used to call David Woodhouse, in order to provide pastoral care for the parents of still-born babies. This enabled them to hold their baby and to take photographs to record the event.
People who are unable to be present in the aftermath of the death of family members often require additional prayer and support. The fact that they missed the moment of transition can cause them such intense grief that it threatens to overwhelm the memory of all the good times they enjoyed together over the years. If this applies to you, read on: we have an insight that will minister to you!
We often noticed how pregnant mothers who were particularly eager to have Rosalind as their midwife managed to “hang on” until she was free to attend the birth of their baby. At the opposite end of life, many people (from newborn babes to the oldest great-grandparent) choose to slip away when they are on their own – even during the interludes when loved ones leave the room to eat or sleep.
Rona Scott sent me an account along these lines after the husband of one of her friends was admitted to hospital with terminal stomach cancer.
Unable to find any peace so long as his wife remained with him, the nurse suggested that my friend step outside to give him some space to calm down. He died almost immediately and very peacefully. My friend was convinced that, just as he had looked after her in life, he wanted to do the same now, not wanting her to see him die.
If you “missed the moment” when your parent(s), child(ren) or partner passed into the next world, there is no need to spend the rest of your life plagued by regrets. What has happened may well be less a failure on your part than due to the fact that your spirits were so strongly united that it was not your presence but rather your absence that was required to complete the transition. I pray this insight will bring you great comfort.
Where it is possible, you may find it valuable to take time to be with your loved ones in the hours following death. There can be real benefit in saying the things you never quite got round to expressing. The grief ordeal is lessened and the chances of a full recovery increase. Even better if some of those words of forgiveness or appreciation can be expressed ahead of time!
May the Lord help you concerning this most vulnerable of issues. The death of His saints is precious in God’s sight – and He will be with you as you honour their memory and embark on the next phase of your life.
Reflect and Pray
It is impossible that anything so natural, so necessary, and so universal as death should ever have been designed by Providence as an evil to mankind.
Reflect and Pray
I said, “In the prime of my life, must I now enter the place of the dead?
Am I to be robbed of the rest of my years?” (Is. 38:10)
To conclude this section on how we can honour our loved ones, I am returning to another part of Robbie Davis Floyd’s account of her daughter’s sudden death.
Usually, when birth is over, you drive home with a baby in the car seat or your arms. Death needs an escort too, and Peyton’s godmother Sharon and I planned to be on the plane that would take Peyton’s body home. She had flown in from New York. The next day Sharon, Richard, and I visited the site of the accident to try to figure out how this could possibly have happened. Ruts in the grass and four piles of shattered glass greeted us, showing how the car had swerved and the four times it had flipped. Among the tall weeds, I found the shards of a Japanese vase I had given my daughter at Christmas.
Birth plans are generally made in clarity of thinking and well in advance; death plans have to happen in shock and immediately. Peyton died on September 12 on her way home from New York to Austin to celebrate her twenty-first birthday with her family and friends. So it was utterly clear that we would not be having a funeral but rather a birthday party and that it had to happen on the actual day of her birth, September 16. Her dad and I had less than four days to pull it off.
To honour our daughter, we rose to the challenge. Even if we had had years to plan, the obituary Peyton’s father Robert Floyd wrote could not have been more beautiful, nor could the Memorial Service/Birthday Party have been a more fitting celebration of Peyton’s life. As in birth, so in death – ritual can carry you through!
And who said that Time should be an ordered man?
A man who breathes the morning air,
progressing steadily until
he slips into the night sleep.
Why, he slithers from nature’s grasp
dashing back and forth through the years,
laughing at the turmoil he causes in my mind,
juggling my memories like an infant with its toy
until I don’t know which are dreams
and which reality.
He can be a mean figure
who freezes time at the most unwelcome moments,
wanting me to savour an agony
Taking me through it frame by frame;
A slow-motion fully interactive picture of my pain.
On another day he may choose to drag me by the hand,
while I try to absorb every piece of this wonderful
life that’s rushing by.
But constant even to this fickle creature of Time
He can speed with the winged feet of the wind,
or crawl with the first agonised attempts of a baby.
I need only to reach out through him
to feel the presence of those who share my life.
And though they may be faint ghosts of the past,
Time will carry them, as precious cargo,
and lay them down on the floor of my mind,
where we can laugh
and speak as if yesterday were tomorrow.
Alison Browne (aged 20)
7 Grubb, N. Rees Howells, Intercessor. Lutterworth.
8 Thoughts on Religion 1965
9 Davis-Floyd, R. (2003) Windows in Space and Time: A Personal Perspective on Birth and Death. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care. Vol. 30 (4):22-277. Robbie kindly gives permission for this article to be reproduced.