Posts Tagged ‘death’

Beside his Dead Body

Monday, April 25th, 2011


I ripped open the envelope, and sure enough, there was a gift card. “Who is Grandpa John?” I yelled to my husband from the other room.

“He’s my second step-dad’s father,” he said.

“Have I ever met him? Like, did he go to our wedding?”


“Well, he sent me a $10 gift card for my birthday.”

“It figures. He’s never sent me a $10 gift card.”

That’s how it started, my letter writing to this man. I began by writing:

“Dear Grandpa John,

I don’t know who you are or why you’re sending me money, but thank you, and keep it coming.”

I went on to write several pages, telling him about my life and what I was doing. I only had one baby at the time, and I told him I was sewing a tapestry for the blank walls in my living room. I told him how my son chased a squirrel up a tree. I just said whatever, rambling about my life.

Ever after, I received gift cards for every birthday, and for each of my children’s birthdays. Every time I tore open the envelopes, my husband would say, “It figures. He’s never sent me a $10 gift card.” My sweet husband was like a broken record.

My husband was shocked the first time he found a letter addressed to me, written by hand from his grandfather. Yes, an old gray-haired man with an oxygen tank was writing me long letters. My husband was bewildered by whatever enchantment I had cast on his grandfather. He asked me what I wrote in my letters, and I told him that I just rambled about nothing.

One day my husband’s parents decided to drive from Southern California to Washington to visit us. Grandpa John insisted on coming, even though he had to drag his oxygen tank with him. For some reason he wanted to meet me.

Days later when they were pulling into my driveway, I went out to hug them all. But Grandpa John did more than hug me. He gave me a kiss on the lips. (Many families do this, by the way; I just wasn’t expecting it.) I was so disgusted I nearly spit on the ground. I calmly walked into the house and into the nearest bathroom to wash my mouth with soap. I told my husband what his grandfather had done. I tried to calm down and pretend like everything was normal.

After a long visit, they all went back to California. We continued writing letters to each other. I needed his money. But it was more than that; I loved him like family. He got such a kick out of my letters. He made me feel valuable.

That’s why I was sad when I heard that he was in the hospital. I called him and talked to him on the phone, knowing this might be the last time I’d ever speak to him. After hanging up the phone, I asked my husband, “Do you think he’s saved?”

“No,” he said, “I think he believes in his own good works to save him.”

I felt a huge burden on my heart to share the gospel with him before he died. I knew that I had a soft spot in his heart, and that if he would hear it from anyone, he would hear it from me, because I had never preached to him. I had only loved him, and he knew it.

Days went by. I still didn’t write the letter. The weight in my soul was unbearable. I finally grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil, and I poured out my heart and the gospel, all intertwined. I wept as I wrote the letter, not knowing if he was already dead, and wondering if I had been too late. I ran to the mail box and put the little flag up.

The next day we got the phone call: he was dead. I wailed so hard that day. I knew that his soul was going to hell, and that it was my fault. How come I hadn’t shared the gospel in so many years? I felt so much spiritual pain, my eyes were raw and swollen.

A week later I got a phone call. It was my husband’s parents. They had found my opened letter next to his dead body.

I screamed with joy. He had read the gospel right before he died, and based on everything I know about God, I know that God would never have expedited that letter to him just to pour more condemnation on his head. Jesus never did that, but He spoke in riddles just so that the people going to hell wouldn’t be under greater condemnation because they had heard Him speak. (On Judgment Day, people are judged according to their works, so hell is different for each person. They scream according to what they did in this life, as finally seen correctly, through the eyes of God.)

God must have known that he needed that letter, and that the timing was perfect.

Ramblings about a Funeral

Saturday, February 12th, 2011


“Am I supposed to wear a dress, and does it have to be black?” I asked my mom over the phone. I just didn’t want to offend anybody by what I wore, but I also didn’t want to be overdressed and stand out like a sore thumb. She said that not everyone wore dresses any more; as long as the clothes were a dark color, I would be fine. She said not to wear red. (Later my mother-in-law explained that to say, “I’m wearing red to your funeral” was an insult.) The older generation sometimes still expected women to wear dresses, though. That did it. I was going to wear a dress. My husband wore a suit, but with a long black T-shirt underneath instead of a button-down shirt. I started humming the Miami Vice theme song, since that was the last time I saw men wear clothes that way, back in the 80’s. But my laughing turned serious when I realized that my husband looked really good. “How come you’ve never dressed like that before? That looks good!”

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a funeral,” my husband said. I think that wearing black with a suit had never occurred to him. My mom was sick with a cold, so it was my dad that knocked on the front door to watch the kids.

Arriving at the funeral home, I noticed the closed casket and was relieved. The image of her contorted body the last time I saw her is indelibly imprinted on my mind, and I would like to wash it off. Maybe the image will go away if I can manage to stop thinking about it.

Some of the family members turned around and smiled at me with huge, tearful smiles. I had only just met some of them the day she died, but apparently the hours of weeping and hugging had been so bonding that now we were good friends, especially the daughter of the deceased.

After I was seated, I stupidly realized that I hadn’t brought tissues. I leaned over to my handsome husband and whispered about my tissue-less-ness. I had also forgotten to sign the registry. My husband got up, since the service hadn’t started yet, and collected tissues and signed the registry.

One of the first things that happened was a slide show to commemorate her life. Tear-jerker music was in the background. Really? Oh my goodness! I had finally stopped crying today, after three or four days of crying off and on and being in a fog. I leaned over to my husband and whispered something about the sappy music. The slides went on for three whole songs. Some of the pictures were funny. Like she was wearing a clown wig, and all these grieving people burst out laughing. She was also painting the outside of a house, standing on a ladder with a dress on. I quietly pointed out to my husband that she was wearing a dress on a ladder. I turned to look at him, and I realized he had tears in his eyes, too. He passed me the tissues, and I had used most of them by the time the lights came back on. I was exhausted and wondered how I would get through the service.

People started going up, telling stories about the life of this woman. Some of the stories were funny, like the time she wanted to kiss a boy, and she made her brother pretend to be the minister to marry them. Everyone laughed, including the grieving husband.

We sang a couple of songs, and I heard my pastor preach the shortest sermon I’ve ever heard him preach. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for the living take it to heart…” the pastor quoted from Ecclesiastes, and the verse hit me like it never had before. Many people in this room did not know Christ. I closed my eyes and begged God for their souls, that they would consider death, and take it to heart. This woman had been praying for her unsaved family members for years. I know, because I was in her Bible study. I suddenly felt an increased burden to pray for them.

At the end, I hugged the grieving husband (the same gray-haired man who had previously told me how I was a good parent, changing the course of my life), and his daughter came over to me from across the room with open arms. I had given her mother her dying wish, to hear hymns as she was passing to glory. Somehow I had fulfilled this, and it meant the world to the family. I hadn’t realized that a dozen people had been intently listening to my lower-than-average singing voice, cracking occasionally because of the lump in my throat and the tears that needed to be wiped away. I knew that I was ministering to the dying woman; I just didn’t know how much I was ministering to the living family.

The daughter asked me if we were going to the reception. There’s food after a funeral? We had other things planned, like my in-laws were coming over to dinner and to watch the kids so I could go out with my husband. The daughter told me that she wanted to meet my kids. I could tell by her expression that it would mean the world to her. I said, “They’re loud.” She laughed and told me to bring them.

“Put on church clothes, fast!” I yelled to the kids as we got home. “Where are we going?” they asked. “There’s food there,” I answered as we piled in the car and drove off.

Heaven Came Down

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011


I looked death in the face. Her face was contorted with her mouth hanging open, and I was frightened for just a split second. She looked like a skeleton, with her breath barely audible as it rattled through her bones. I couldn’t believe that only days before, my children had put on a comedy show for her, and she didn’t seem to be at death’s door. Yes, her lateral sclerosis was causing her to deteriorate fast. Just two years ago she was completely normal, walking around and laughing. And now she was in a wheelchair, unable to speak. Last Monday my husband said to her, “You will be with Christ soon.” With a trembling hand, she pointed to the letters n-o-w. She wanted to die.

She looked at me with such an intense look, like she wanted desperately to tell me something. I knew that she felt trapped inside her body. I knew that she was just waiting to die. I couldn’t stand it. When I went home that night, I prayed something I thought I would never pray for someone that I loved. I begged God to strike her dead. I just didn’t want her to suffer any more.

Two days later, her husband called me. She had taken a turn for the worse, and if I wanted to say good-bye, now was the time. She only had days left. As I hung up the phone, I cried. I told my husband what I had prayed, and he wasn’t shocked. He didn’t look at me with horror as I sobbed convulsively with grief and guilt. He said, “This is what she wanted.”

When I arrived at her house two days later, her family was gathered there, signing papers. The scene was almost surreal. It was horrible to see her that way. Her husband told me that her grandkids were trying to sing her some hymns. I was left alone in the room with the two grandkids. I hugged her, even though she looked like the screaming mummy in that Egypt video my family had watched last fall, the one that had given my son nightmares. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I was hugging a living corpse; I loved her, and I was not afraid. I boldly began singing the great hymns of our faith. I landed on the hymn, “Heaven Came Down,” and as tears were streaming down my face, I sang, “When at the cross, my Savior made me whole…” Yes, this is what she wanted.

I must have sung for an hour. Toilet paper was passed to me over and over, and her family members kept apologizing that they didn’t have kleenex. I told them I didn’t care. I was the only one there that didn’t belong. But her family just loved me and treated me like one of them. They talked about memories of her childhood, about her father, about so many things I never knew. Then I talked to her daughter for quite a while. I told her how her mother had been hospitable, even when she couldn’t speak or hardly move. There were two Bible studies over at her house last fall, raking leaves and cleaning up for the winter. When the people came inside, I was called over to translate for her, since I understood her best. She was asking me to pass out the brownies I’d brought, which I had forgotten all about. Everyone laughed at how she was still taking care of everyone, even though she could barely move.

Several hours passed, and I decided that I should go home. I said good-bye to everyone, and as I was driving away, I cried out to God in an almost angry tone, “Please take her NOW!” My vision was blurry as I wiped tears from my face.

Later that night, I was told that she passed away as soon as I drove away.