Over the past weeks I have been privileged to find myself in the company of others surrounding their loved one, physically and with love, and with a lone person in their room; their having effectively outlived those closest to them being made real. Two people leaving this life: one well past average age of those I do funerals for (87) and the other nowhere near it!
As I do, I prayed with, and for, them, anointed them and claiming the promises of Christ for them, after death, closed the accounts ledger and entrusted them to God's grace, love, care and mercy. An easier task than that perhaps encountered when trauma has been the means by which they have departed this life you might think, but oddly this is not the case; for all life ending is loss and I'm not sure whether the tears and pain I feel as I make my way home are an indulgence or a sign of something I hope never to lose in my own person.
But when death comes knocking we are all affected.
Few, regardless of our externals and the ways in which we apparently deal with death, are truly unaffected by it. We watch those we love slowly climb the ladder of the slide and then, having reached the top, knowing there is only one way to get down, slide into death. Like every slide, some go easily and quickly whilst others go down slowly, sticking in places; other still leave scratch marks all the way down!
Often, when asked what I consider my most important role as one who ministers the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, my response is: 'To prepare, and help, people die well.' This causes raised eyebrows in some but when you really think about it, death is the one exam we cannot resit and therefore, when it comes, we need to do it well.
One of the things I find myself encountering increasingly are people whose loved ones have gone leaving a body that continues without them; that awfulness that is Alzheimer's - something so many encounter and are cornered by. It's like a car where the driver has stepped out only to find that it has contused on its journey with no one at the wheel. Every now and then the driver might appear but eventually the vehicle carriers along with no one on board with the result that soon we forget who the driver was and consider what they are no longer.
One of the ways of countering this is to create memory boxes for those who suffer and memory books for those who will be left for the day will come when both are all that is left of our loved one unless we take care to preserve them. Write the familiar family stories down so that they remain in ink when the words are no longer heard and the memories are gone. Collect up the photographs and the names of past family members and the collective histories for those who will be leaving us and for those who are yet to come, for:
A person doesn't truly die if their name is not forgotten!
And when death comes: That transition from this world to the next. Remember the promises of God and challenge it;
Death, where is your sting?
Grave, where is your victory?
And the answer to these two questions is this:
Trampled underfoot and made a mockery of by the cross of Christ
May all who have departed this life rest in peace and rise in glory!