When my wife and I walked into the room, he was on a steady morphine drip to dull the pain, but still lucid and able to wheeze out responses to questions. Friends and relatives filled the place so, for the next hour and a half, I relaxed and listened to the people around the bed engaged in small talk, trying to cheer him up. Towards evening, the last of the friends departed, leaving only Patti and I in the room, silent with the dying man. As I sat down in the chair beside his bed, he began to cry and sobbed, “Why were they talking about these things? I wanted to talk about God.”
I would not have described him as a man who came across to other people as religious but with that cry, it was startlingly clear to me that as the last hours of his life trickled away, everything that had been talked about for the past hour and a half was utterly trivial to him. Now, only God, the hereafter, and his own eternal destiny, was of any importance.
Patti held his hand as I slowly read through the 23rd Psalm – my favourite. Especially poignant was the part about the Good Shepherd being with us as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. When I finished, I said a few words about who the Good Shepherd is, and the importance of totally committing ourselves into His hands for salvation and eternal life. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he began to pray aloud. It was difficult to understand most of what he said, as he gasped out his prayer, but what I did clearly catch is, “You are the only way, Lord. You are the only way.” It was one of the most sincere prayers I have ever heard. When I recounted this to his oldest son at the funeral, he told me that his father had never prayed out loud like that before, in all the years he could recollect.
When the dying man finished his prayer, Patti prayed for him, then I. We then tiptoed out of the room as he fell peacefully asleep. His son told me that he never regained lucidity after that.
It was about an hour’s drive back home as I thought about how valuable it is to spend time with someone in their final hours of life. Laying at the door of death has a singular way of clarifying exactly what is of ultimate importance. Attending the death of a person stimulates sober thought, and a re-adjustment of one’s own priorities. In the end, life is so short. We are born, we blink, and it is over. A century or two later, our names are forgotten. We were born for eternity, not for this fleeting life. In this self-absorbed society, so totally focused on the moment, the words of Socrates are a warning and reminder …
‘If the soul is immortal, it demands our care not only for that part of time which we call life, but for all time. And indeed it would seem now that it will be extremely dangerous to neglect it.’
or as Jesus said …
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”