“She’s gone.” Those were the saddest and worst words I had ever heard. “She” was my wife. As I looked at her lifeless body, I was stunned by the suddenness of her death. At the time she was admitted to the hospital, I had already been informed that my wife’s condition was terminal. Yet, I had hoped that I would have enough time to prepare for what was to come. I didn’t.
The hardest part of my ordeal took place just a few minutes later, when my nine-year-old son Dawson arrived at the hospital. I had to tell him that he had lost his mother. Nothing could have prepared me for his reaction. He wailed as if he was on fire, and I could do nothing to alleviate his pain.
How does one prepare for the death of a loved one when one knows that death will arrive shortly?
One day before my wife died, a physician assistant had told me that my wife wasn’t going to make it back home. All that I could do was to admit my wife to a hospital and wait for death’s arrival.
I was just outside my wife’s hospital room when death arrived. A couple of minutes earlier, I had been in the room, watching my wife labor for breath. I stepped outside the room when a visitor arrived. I was outside the room for no more than 2 minutes. I stepped back into the room with the visitor, and I immediately realized that my wife was lying still.
At that point, I didn’t know what to do. I acted as if she were just resting. The visitor played along and prayed over her. Then he left.
Then, I sought a nurse to check on my wife. Two nurses went into the room. One of them delivered the message: “She’s gone.”
Later, the visitor told me that he knew my wife had died but didn’t want to be the one to tell me. I admitted that I suspected the same thing, but I didn’t want to say so.
I am glad that I wasn’t in the room when death arrived. I consider the visitor’s arrival to have been divine providence. His arrival prevented me from seeing my wife die. I don’t know if I could have coped if I had seen it.
On 12/28/17, my late step-father’s sister was in a hospital, and medical personnel had already revived her after her heart stopped beating. Her husband finally gave the order, “Do not resuscitate.”
My mother gave me the news. I knew that she was taking the situation hard, because she had done the same for my late step-father in 2002. He, too, lay in a hospital struggling to stay alive. After giving the order, “Do not resuscitate,” my mother could only sit and wait for my step-father to breathe his last breath.
Doing what my mother did has to be the most difficult task that anyone can do.
When my wife died, I took comfort in knowing that death was not the end of her. Yes, a storm raged within my life. Like a hurricane, it threatened to cause havoc. Yet, the storm did not destroy me. Like a ship at sea, I had an anchor to keep me from being tossed about. I had a safe harbor for my heart, a haven for my soul. It was the same Christian faith that sustained my wife during the years that she battled cancer. It was the source of the hope that I had of being reunited with my wife once my time on Earth was over.
I continue to have that hope. After all, the Gospel of Messiah Jesus is a message of hope, even though it is misunderstood by those who reject it.
Still, even for a believer in Jesus, waiting for a loved one to die is heart-wrenching. It is a “time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). God-Incarnate understands that kind of grief. After all, the shortest verse in the Bible says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
William Barclay elaborates:
“When we have a sad and sorry tale to tell, when life has drenched us with tears, we do not go to a God who is incapable of understanding what has happened; we go to a God who has been there.
. . . He knows our problems because he has come through them. The best person to give you advice and help on a journey is someone who has travelled the road before you. God can help because he knows it all. Jesus is the perfect high priest because he is perfectly God and perfectly man. Because he has known our life he can give us sympathy, mercy and power. He brought God to men and he can bring men to God.”*
The God of Messianic Jews and Christians is a God who understands the anguish of waiting for death’s arrival, and He brings comfort to His followers who have been in such a situation. I know so from my own experience. As Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Barclay, W. (1976). The Letter to the Hebrews. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.
Note: The Author’s wife died on July 3, 2010.