Last night, I had the privilege of being somewhere most people wouldn’t think a privilege: I sat with one of my best friends in her living room, waiting and watching as her husband of almost twenty years passed from life on earth to eternal life with Jesus.
Only a couple weeks before, they’d found out that a supposed clot in his arm was actually a “mass.” After immediately beginning radiation, only a week or so later they were told the mass was actually a lot of aggressively growing masses, rapidly spreading throughout his body—and untreatable. The decision was made by both of them that he would come home with hospice care for the time he had left. The doctor guessed “weeks to a couple months.”
He came home on Friday. He died six days later.
Today, I’m pondering the nature of grief in a Christian household. From the beginning my friend has had peace, and her husband did as well. That doesn’t mean they would have chosen the pain—physical, often extreme, for him . . . emotional for her and their two teenage daughters—but it certainly changes how they reacted to it.
Instead of becoming angry at God, they turned to him even more steadfastly. Instead of becoming bitter, they prayed that others might see Christ through their behavior during trials. In fact, when I visited for a couple hours two nights ago, I walked in the door to the sound of worship as close friends played guitar and sang at his bedside. The singers included his daughters, who recognized that God alone was the source of their comfort.
So last night, when my daughter and I gathered a few things to spend the night, she decided to bring her ukulele and chord charts so we, also, could minister to our friends through music. Again, we worshiped, and again, the house had an atmosphere of peace, not despair. Amazing how that works.
There were tears, certainly, at the moment of that final breath, but overall, still that sense of peace that truly passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). God gives us peace, and he guards our hearts and minds in the process. These guys knew who was guarding their hearts, and it got them through a night that will change their lives forever, leaving a hole that can’t be filled by another person.
My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter even recognized God’s providential timing of her father’s death: a day later, and her best friend would have been out of town on a school field trip; her sister’s best friend (my daughter) would have been at the prom and not at her friend’s side. As it was, I got to witness four girls between the ages of fifteen and almost-seventeen comforting each other with a maturity that would have put most adults to shame.
In my friend’s own words, less than twenty-four hours after her marital status was changed to “widow”:
“I don’t know what the days ahead will hold but the girls and I are confident that the peace that God has given us will continue. We are blessed to have so many amazing friends and family members carrying us along! It is such a comfort to us to have people who will not only grieve with us but also rejoice with us.”
We do not grieve as the world grieves, “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b), but as John 16:22 states oh-so-clearly, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”