A year ago today–well, almost a day ago by the time this gets published–my dad died. I wrote a good chunk of these thoughts in the weeks following his death last year, but at the time I didn’t feel comfortable posting them. I suppose the anniversary of dad’s death should be commemorated somehow, though I don’t know what that might look like. I kept my mind occupied today (not as an intentional distraction–it was just busy); mom apparently kept herself busy in a number of ways.
Last year around this time I was tempted to go with a cliche posting of John Donne (“death, thou shalt die!”). I was tempted again today. I shall refrain.
As I say, I wrote the first bit of this in June last year. I wrote a bit more in March of this year. And the rest today. A bit of a muddled mishmash of meandering thoughts on death and life.
I wasn’t at my dad’s side when he passed away. That night mom slept in a bed they had rolled into dad’s room just for her. She woke up every so often when dad’s breathing paused, as it had been doing for several days. Some time after 3:00a.m., mom knew the time was coming soon. She called me and my brother. I arrived at about 20 after 3; my brother was already there. We had both missed his death, but mom was there with him as he went.
What a strange thing death is. What is it? One moment you’re there, one moment you’re not. Your body is there, but somehow you aren’t. At times it was hard to believe that dad was actually dead. He certainly had the look of death about him–it had been there to some degree for a couple of days–but every so often it really seemed as if his hands, which had been placed on his stomach, rose ever so slightly.
We sat with his body for just over an hour. It felt like we should do something. How could we just accept that he was dead and leave it at that? Shouldn’t we try to revive him? Shouldn’t we lay our hands on him and command, in the name of Jesus Christ, that he get up and walk? No, that’s the stuff of apostles (the good guys) and faith healers (the charlatans?)!
Part of me felt like I should, even though I knew he would die again, even though I knew I didn’t have enough faith to do that kind of thing. And even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have enough faith to heal his dementia, which in some respects seems like a more insurmountable disease than death.
What good would a resuscitation/resurrection of sorts have done for him then? What good did it do for Lazarus? He, at least, presumably lived a fruitful life afterwards. Dad would have woken back to dementia. Maybe not. I don’t know.
As Christians we tend to speak of death as an enemy. There’s some nuance to the term “death” that may need to be teased out, but not now. For now I say that even if death is an enemy, sometimes it’s a friend, too–”to depart and be with Christ.”
I think of the 102 year old woman who I used to visit in a nursing home. She would tell me that she was ready and waiting to die. She would pray, “When, Lord?” She had lived a long, hard life, filled with pain and sorrow, and had outlived much of her family, including children, grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren. But she was also a woman of deep faith. In what way was death an enemy to her? It wasn’t. For her, death was a friend.
This is turning into a reflection on death more than a reflection on dad.
One of my professors here said something a while ago that comes to mind again now as I write. He suggested that most people outside of Christian circles aren’t aware that they have a “sin problem”, or if they’ve heard about it it doesn’t make a whole lot sense. Yet Christians tend to harp on the sin and guilt issue.
Here’s what people are aware of: the fact of death. We are inclined to do whatever we can to stop it or slow it down or reverse the process or at the very least deny it, perhaps best exemplified by the plastic surgery industry.
The defeat of death is another powerful reality of the gospel story in addition to forgiveness of sin. It’s written about a lot in the New Testament, and it may well resonate much better with people than a problem, like sin, of which they are not aware.
I’ll quote my professor here, on the bit where my mind drifts tonight: “The gospel’s solution to the death problem is to live trusting and obeying this Jesus that God raised from the dead, hanging on to this Jesus at all costs even through death, hanging on as if this Jesus was Life itself, and then to die and come back alive on the other side, a much better alive.”
I’m reflecting a bit on what I know of dad. I’m pretty sure he was hanging on to Jesus for dear life.