I received a phone call around 8:00 last Saturday evening. It was a member of the church. F will not last the night. Can you please come?
I put my work clothes on and headed for his place; a bright, comfortable, room in a new assisted living centre. When I go there I always feel like I’m being embraced by warm, loving arms. It’s a peaceful place, even when it’s not, if you know what I mean.
When I arrived at his room, three family members were holding a vigil around his bed. I called out his name, interrupting his laboured breathing, and reminded him who I was, since I had visited him only a couple of times. But it was clear he remembered me. He didn’t say anything. He closed his eyes and continued the arduous task of filling with oxygen what was left of his lungs.
I said some prayers, laid on hands and anointed him with oil. The family and I said the Lord’s Prayer together, and I noticed that F was moving his lips along with ours. His eyes were clenched shut, as if to drain the meaning out of each word. He may have muttered a prayer now and again through his life, but this time he meant every word.
I gave the final blessing and commended him to Almighty God. I took his hand, made the sign of the cross on his palms, and said, “Good-bye, F. Go with God.” He gave my fingers a little squeeze.
He died an hour later. It was Holy Saturday as the day was winding down and people were making preparations for Easter morning. Hams were unthawing, chocolate eggs were being hidden, and alarm clocks were being set so that Christians could meet their risen saviour just as the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon.
But F was already there. He had a head start.
I usually feel a tremendous ache at the death of someone I know and to whom I’ve have been ministering. This time I didn’t. At least not as much. I wonder if it was because he died on the threshold of Easter, as the promises of resurrection surrounded me, or if it’s because I realized that maybe I really do believe. I believe that God is real, God’s promises are true, that God is about life, joy, freedom, forgiveness, and salvation.
F’s death made Easter real for me. It was his parting gift. A gift that will not grow stale or crusty with time. It may fade, like a photograph that’s been hidden, locked away in a trunk upstairs in the attic. But the picture remains, the faces do not change even if the paper yellows with age or even if it isn’t looked at.
At least that’s my hope. Thank you, F. I'll see you later.