I am at that point in my life when some of the significant older people in my family are beginning to pass away. Grandparents have all passed away decades ago, but now parents, aunts and uncles are getting older and some are dying.
I’ve been thinking about this time of life when the natural course of things is to experience loss. I think that perhaps the only significant difference in each person’s death is that some had a strong faith in God, and in the hereafter, and some did not. My experience with death thus far is that those with a strong faith are much more at peace with dying than those who have no faith. If granted the time before death, even the faithful grieve the leaving, but those with faith are able to dwell within certain serenity about death that those without faith tend to lack.
My dear Uncle, lying in a hospital bed, shared with me his need for faith after learning of his cancer diagnosis. He was desperate to grasp on to faith, and he did. My uncle was a strong man, a good, moral man, a family man, but staring death in the face brought him to his knees. But then he tapped into the faith he had but had not always leaned on so much. His faith enabled him to stand up straight and tall again and in the end he helped everyone else through the process of his own departure. Much more so than we helped him. My uncle fed his faith through prayer and reading of the word, through music and solitary time. He did this throughout the process of his death and it was apparent that he felt the peace of God that only faith can provide at the end of his life. His faith gave strength to the rest of us.
Extremes of life help us to realize that forces are in play rendering us all but insignificant. Whether or not we seek to strengthen our faith in these times is the key. As the Bible says, even a mustard seed can move a mountain and so it is with the faith that blooms within a person facing eternity.
I’ve found that people who are dying become introspective, reviewing their lives for the gaps, the omissions, the sins, the lost loves and the transgressions that they fear to leave behind them un-mended when they’ve breathed out their last. Faith enables us to understand that something greater than ourselves oversees all, not necessarily controlling all but nonetheless using each opportunity to help us grow and change and improve. If only we will humble ourselves to reach out to God.
I can see in the deaths of my family members with faith that God is present and caring and loving and good. He will wrap His arms around anyone who reaches out to him and He strengthens us in those most difficult times; if we only ask Him to do so. We all know that dying is inevitable, but only people with faith accept that the dying is a passage to greater realms of being and consciousness. Only the faithful can pass with the peace of God to ease their journey.
Perhaps the greatest gift we can give the dying, and the living around them, is to uphold their faith. Faith soothes the dying and charges knowledge of their forgiveness. Faith allows each of us to enter death with limitless hope. Perhaps the greatest desire of the dying is to be forgiven for the hurts they’ve left on those they’ve loved. They want to know that in spite of their transgressions that they are still loved. The dying want to bask in the golden light of certainty that their sins were never greater than their souls, nor were their sins more important to God than were their requests for forgiveness.
To die in peace is to embrace the truth of God’s grace: to die without such peace must surely be hell.