The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
These are the beginning of comforting words to the living in Thessalonica about their deceased family member and friends. The Apostle reminds them that the living believers have hope because the believers who “are asleep” are with Jesus and will be reunited with their bodies and all believers, living and dead will be together with the Lord. He reminds them to comfort each other with these words (v:18).
Those believers who have passed from this world are with Christ in peace and comfort. We, the living can take solace in this and encourage one another. Often we may hear sermons on why we need not be afraid of death as believers, and that is certainly true. But, there is something I don’t think I have ever heard anyone teach on. Joy (my wife) and I saw it in my mother this past weekend.
As many of you know, my mother is dying of cancer. She has always been a woman with a strong will who raised six kids by herself. She often worked 2 jobs to make ends meet and although we were never wealthy I think I can honestly say we never lacked anything we actually needed while growing up. In addition to food, clothes and a roof over our heads, she provided the one thing that we truly needed. We always felt safe. She loved us and we were safe in her love. She was loyal and we were safe that she would never betray us. I have never really seen her afraid of much. I am sure she was at times. After all, she was a woman, alone, with six kids to care for and provide for and that had to be a daunting task.
My mother is a believer. Joy and I have the joy of leading her to Christ quite a few years ago. She knows where she is going once she departs this life and after being diagnosed with cancer was not shaken as to her eternal future. She has spent a fair amount of time making her own final arrangements planning her funeral and working through how her material stuff should be handled. There has never been a fear of dying.
Joy and I along with our daughter, Jennifer, went to see her this past weekend (she lives about 6 hours away). Her condition has deteriorated quickly this past week. Even so, her sense of humor remained. She laughed as we, particularly Joy, regaled her with stories of our travels. At one point when Joy was picking on her she jokingly asked my daughter, Jennifer, “Why is she being so mean to me?” Jennifer told her Joy was trying to get even with her for all the mean things she had done to Joy over the years. Without missing a beat she responded, “You mother could not possibly live long enough to get even with me.” There were belly laughs all around.
As we were leaving the tears began to flow. My mother was in grief. The grief that comes with the realization that you may not see someone you love dearly for a very long time. It isn’t fear, for she knows where she is going and that we will be joining her, but it is the process of letting go for now. We are beginning the process of grieving now which will heighten once she passes from this life to the next and we mostly focus on the grief of those who will remain behind. As we left, she cried as the thought took full hold that she may not see us again before she takes her final breath and then for a long time after that moment. There is a kind of grief that the dying go through. It happens on this side of death and is finalized in joy as they come face to face with the Lord. It isn’t something I have thought about before and will change the way I try to minister to the dying in the future. I am not sure in what way but I know I will see them differently. It is yet another lesson learned from my mother.