Psalm 55:6 (New International Version)
6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-
I sat beside his bed on that evening four years ago. We all knew that it wouldn't be long now before his old lungs, labouring to do their work in spite of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), would exhale for the last time. But we had thought that so many times before--prepared ourselves to say goodbye--only for him to rally and prove the doctors and nurses wrong.
I had worship practice that evening, so I dropped in to the "group home" that was home to Stan, staying as long as I could before I had to leave for the church, promising to come back as soon as I could. There was a quiet expectancy in the house--the same sort as on Christmas Eve. People trod softly and gently.
Friends had come and gone over the course of the days before. On May 23rd he had come home from York County Hospital and we had celebrated his 87th birthday--a steady stream of people coming to the house to wish him well and share some of his cake. He was very much loved.
It was just gone 9.00 when I came back to the house where he lived. Lights had been dimmed and his housemates had either gone to bed or were going. I went into his room and he grasped my hands between his, warmly shaking them, his face radiating the love that drew us all to him.
In his room, all day long, staff had come and gone, singing favourite hymns and choruses, reading scripture out loud. As I took my place beside his bed, I sang softly, cried, kissed his brow, caressed his face and held him until he fell into a peaceful sleep.
I slipped out of his room at around 10.30 and chatted in hushed tones with the night staff who had arrived. There were two, instead of the usual one, for support, in case this should be "the night."
I went out into the dark, knowing that he had wanted me to stay--he who never asked anything for himself and only thought of others. But--practically I thought--I would need to be strong for others in the morning.
The call came around 6.00 a.m. Stan had passed away.
It took me only half an hour to get back to the house where he no longer was. The two staff who had been with him all night had each held one of his hands at the moment he passed from this world into the next. They had encouraged him--"It's all right Stan, you can go." They had shared a holy moment and a little angel dust was clinging to them as they recounted every detail.
I visited a recently bereaved friend this week--went to simply sit beside him on his mourning bench. "It's the regrets that are the hardest thing," he said, voice choking back the tears.
Psalm 116:15 (New International Version)
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.