Today I attended the memorial service of my son-in-law's grandmother. Over the years I have become acquainted with some members of his family, and his grandmother was one of those people. She was in her late nineties and had virtually wasted away from Alzheimer's disease, similar to my own mother's last years.
When she was still of sound mind and body, I met her many times at my grandson's birthday parties, as those boys were her great grandchildren. She was an attractive and well groomed lady, classy, kind, loving, compassionate, and full of many other virtues that were expounded upon by my son-in-law in his wonderful tribute at the memorial.
Keith and I had a similar experience, both of us holding our loved one at the moment of death, he his grandmother and me my father. It is a profound experience, one that a person never forgets.
We fight death all our lives. Death is the enemy and we do everything in our power to fend it off, even though we know it is inevitable. Everything from wearing seatbelts to eating healthy and exercising, is all done with the goal in mind, that of fending off this relentless foe. We do this because life is a precious gift, something to treasure and enjoy, and partly because we know it can be taken from us in a heartbeat.
When we are in the presence of a dying person, we witness the triumph of the enemy, the final defeat of the very thing we have fought against all our lives. We reluctantly give in to it because we know it is, in the end, inevitable no matter what we do. But here is the profoundness of it. At the very instant that life slips away from the body, it enters another dimension, and continues on. It is only the death of the body, but because that is what is tangible and seen and touched, we have this strong sense of loss and finality. In fact, it is not the end at all, but the beginning of something entirely different for the soul.
In both Keith's and my case, we witnessed something unseen. It is not a contradiction. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" is a promise that we have, so we know that our loved one is immediately in the presence of the Lord as they sigh their last breath. Suddenly, we are only holding a shell, a flawed vessel that contained our loved one, but will now no longer be needed. Our loved one has broken the bonds of this earth and has entered a realm that we can speculate about, but also one which we have some information from God's word.
And herein lies the great comfort that Christians have regarding the loss of loved ones. The parting is not final. The reunion is coming when it is our turn.