On the kitchen wall of our family farmhouse is an old white-board, put there years ago to hold messages for mom and dad, both of whom have now left us. This week I read the final notes on the board, basically untouched since a few days after mom went to Heaven in June of 2012.
One of my siblings had written: “We have lost the best friend anyone could ever have–our mother.” Under that, another had written: “She’s not lost. We know where she is.” And under that was this: “That doesn’t make it any easier.”
All of those statements are true, I suppose. Even though both our parents nearly made the century mark, my two brothers and two sisters (and I) miss them so much.
But the note on the board does raise an interesting question, one worth our consideration.
What does make giving up a loved one in death easier?
Not that it will ever be easy. “We sorrow, but not as others who have no hope,” Scripture says.
The operative word here is “easier.” Are there some realities that lessen the impact of a loved one’s death?
Here are some thoughts on that subject.
1) The Lord Jesus makes dying “going home.”
Our Lord said the eternal dwelling place of His disciples is “My Father’s house.” He said, “I go to prepare a place for you…. If it were not so, I would have told you…. I am the way….” (John 14). To the thief on the cross, Jesus called the future home “paradise” (Luke 23). In Matthew 25, He referred to Heaven as “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
“Home” may be the best word in any language. Facing our own departure from this life, if we just know we’re “going home,” the pain and fear would fade away in a heartbeat. In the same way, the pain of giving up one dear to us recedes in light of the destination being “the Father’s house.”
Home. We’re going home.
2) A long life makes dying a natural thing.
My brother Ron and I have each logged a half-century or more in preaching the gospel. We have held hundreds of funerals for people of all ages in every conceivable circumstance. Even though such separations are never easy, having the deceased live into their 90s makes giving them up far less traumatic to their families.
3) A long life well lived takes the hard edge off death.
Nothing softens the mourners’ grief like knowing their loved-one lived years beyond what was normal, served God faithfully all that time, and left this world exuding the love of God and the joy of the Lord, with the expectation that what lay ahead was all good.
That’s the situation with our parents. Giving them up was not easy, but we can only imagine how much sharper the pain would be had they not loved the Lord and served Him faithfully.
4) Knowing God’s Word puts a foundation underneath our hopes.
Scriptures teem with promises of eternal life and assurances of everlasting glory for those who have died in Christ.
“…and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken” (Psalm 17:15).
The Lord Jesus told the nay-sayers in HIs day–Sadducees who disputed the resurrection and scoffed at the notion of eternal life–”God is not the God of death people, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32).
Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth and at last shall stand upon the earth….whom I shall see for myself….” (Job 19:25-27).
Or consider this testimony from the Apostle Paul: “Jesus Christ, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Timothy 1:10).
5) A loving family is a foretaste of Heaven.
In former days, people seemed always to want to die at home, surrounded by family, rather than in the antiseptic environment of a modern hospital ward. And who can argue with that?
Wednesday was my sister Patricia’s birthday. So, the evening before, we gathered in the restaurant of her choice for a dinner in her honor. We gave her cards and presents, hugs and songs, stories and laughter. Few things are better in this life than families that love each other, and we do that.
There is a parallel here with the Lord’s family. We cannot see or touch or “love on” our mother and daddy any longer in this life, so the next best thing is for their remaining five children to come together in love and harmony. When we honor each other, we honor our parents. Likewise, God’s children assembling to worship Him and to fellowship with each other is as close as we can come in this life to touching Him.
The nearest I can get to my mom and dad these days is to gather with my brothers and sisters. There is a comfort there found nowhere else.
6) Growing older–knowing it won’t be all that long until we see them again–helps somewhat.
Our mother lived five years after Pop went to Heaven. When he left, they were working on their 74th year of married life. (Mom was only 17 when they married in 1934 and hardly remembered a life without him.) So often, she would say softly, “I miss Pop.” One of us would respond,”I miss him, too, Mama.” Once or twice I tried a different approach. When she spoke about missing dad, I said, “Well, mom, you will be seeing him soon. It won’t be long.”
It helped very little if at all. This kind of sadness and emptiness responds only slightly to logic and reason. Telling her that she would be dying herself brought little comfort. After all, she didn’t know any more about what death was like than the rest of us. The death of a loved one–even a godly and beloved soulmate–still “feels” so final.
We children are all in our 70s now. Ron will be 78 in August and Glenn one year younger. Patricia turned 75 Wednesday, I’m 73, and Carolyn hits 71 in May. (The last-born of our clan, Charlie, went to Heaven in 2006 at the age of 62.)
7) Memories help. The sweeter the memories, the greater the comfort.
When Ron showed up at the restaurant for our birthday dinner for Patricia, he brought with him a notebook I had put together for each of the siblings a few years back. It contains prints of of photos taken in the last years of our parents’ lives, as well as drawings of mom and dad I’ve done, and a few other things. The photos are beautiful and sweet memories poured out from the pages.
Photographs of our parents are throughout the farmhouse (which, incidentally, our dad built in the mid 1950s with the help of family and friends after the previous house had burned). Notes in their handwriting are everywhere. Carolyn, who now owns it, says she’s not turning the house into a shrine, but “just leaving it as it was for the time being.”
Pop set out the trees around the house. He plowed every field in every direction, as did each of the boys in our family, and our grandparents. Memories saturate every foot of the soil.
When Patricia, Carolyn, and her husband Van, and I played three hours of rummy (the sweet little card game our family has played since we were children) after Tuesday night’s dinner, we were sitting at the same dining room table where we had dined in the 1950s. Same room, same table, same chairs.
“Precious memories, how they linger….”
We still miss our loved ones. But we give thanks for ten thousand gifts from our Lord that ease the pain and make us anticipate seeing them again before long. As someone once said, “Those who know the Lord never see each other for the last time.”