1 John 2:17 (New International Version)
17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
The email came in early afternoon, "It sounds like he is nearing the end of his earthly journey." The writer of the email asked that I pass on the news to another worker who would want to know.
It was expected--we all knew this was coming. Our friend had gone into hospital in February after a fall and never left. When x rays were done to check for broken bones, instead they found cancer.
Miraculously he didn't experience any pain. We were all so amazed and grateful for that. Where the cancer was, he should have felt pain.
His appetite was hearty up until the last couple of weeks, and we kept the Kentucky Fried Chicken store near the hospital in business--bringing take-out--in.
A steady stream of visitors flowed through the hospital room, leaving notes for one another in a journal pinned on the wall. Often we'd cross paths with his pastor or another friend.
On my visits I observed an old man in the next bed, frail and looking long ready for heaven. He had lain there for the past seven months and I never saw a visitor at his bedside. I often wondered about him--who he was--and how it could be that at the end, someone could be so alone.
The phone rang a couple of hours later. It was my co-worker, the manager of the team that supported our friend when he lived in his apartment. "He just died," she said, "and it was an incredible experience. I feel as if I'm on sacred ground."
She and another coworker who loved him faithfully, had gone to the hospital and both were with him at the moment that he slipped peacefully from this world into heaven. We were so happy that he wasn't alone when that moment came--that he had chosen then to leave.
I had seen him last on Monday. He was finding it hard to form words, but his eyes said everything and he looked at me intently and smiled with them. He had already said, "Thank you," to me several visits ago. We both knew that he meant "thank you" for care given--my part in his life--but somehow it was hard to acknowledge to him that I knew that was what he meant. Our lives had been connected for about twenty five years. A long time.
On Monday I said, "I love you," and he responded in just recognizable sounds, "I love you too," and we squeezed each other's hands. It was hard even then to confront the fact that this was happening, but I said, "Soon you'll be seeing your mom," and he had nodded.
But my coworker was telling me about his death now, how she had prayed with him, being encouraged by the nurses to talk to him. "Hearing is the last sense to go," they had said. She asked him to forgive her if she had ever done anything to offend him in her work with him. Then the other staff member had arrived to say goodbye--and soon after that they realized that he had slipped away, so very peacefully.
She told me it had struck her as hilarious, that he, who always wanted to be helpful and not be any trouble to those caring for him, had chosen then to pass away. She had brought his suit to the hospital the day before so that it would be ready when it was needed. She had hung it in his locker and told the nurses that it was there, but she worried that they would forget. Now she was able to lay it on his bed. Even at the end, it seemed he had made things easier for us.
The week at work ended with me sharing the news of his death with some of the people who knew him from long years together, first in an institution and then living free. Although they were not close friends, they appreciated knowing right away.
One of them told me that he would not be going to the funeral. It would not be good for his blood pressure, he said--and then he switched topics--that subject of his friend's passing dealt with.
"Do you know what they have now?" he asked--and with enthusiasm, he told me--"Bullet proof back-packs. That way a knife can't go through if someone stabs you."
I laughed. This is why I love my work. I ended the day with the image of kids going back to school with bullet proof back packs. Somehow the thought was so ludicrous it made me laugh.
Next week there will be plans to make, but right now, our friend is with Jesus and all is well.
Psalm 90:12 (New International Version)
12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Isaiah 40:7-8 (New International Version)
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
1 Corinthians 7:31 (New International Version)
31...use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.