One of my favorite stories has the line in it, “Everybody dies alone.” I’ve always loved the brutal honesty of that statement. That no matter what, no matter who you are with, no matter who you are, you face death alone. We live in a world where honesty about death is hard to come by. We work out, eat right, and do plastic surgery to avoid it. We take drug after drug after drug to keep it at bay. And when we must face it, we sanitize it, cover it up, and hide it. Yet, we’re all going to die, each and every one of us. That’s the horror of this life. That’s its curse. We’re going to die. This life ends.
About three weeks ago, a man I loved died.
“Had he been sick, or was his death unexpected?” The first time someone asked me that I just stood there, trapped between both yes and no. Yes, my dear extra father had been sick for a very long time, and had given us some good scares, but that’s just it. He’d been sick for so long, we just kinda expected him to keep plugging along, or for the downhill spiral to be more gradual. So yes, he’d been sick for years, and yes his death was unexpected. I had just seen him. I knew he wasn’t doing well, but I kept telling myself, “The doctors aren’t panicked, so I’m not gonna panic.”
The next morning he died.
It wasn’t a ‘peaceful’ death like Harry’s, surrounded by saints singing, holding his hand, praying, reading scripture, and doing their duty to the end. It wasn’t like what I’d heard of Glenn’s, where he was able to give his children marching orders before he passed. It was a cold dark morning with EMT’s and doctors struggling, fighting to find a pulse, find a breath, bring him back. It was a police officer taking us away from him to give them room to work. It was us huddled in the emergency room hallway trying to reach our siblings, knowing, having to decide this was the end.
For me, the next few days were busy. Planning a Memorial Service is like planning a wedding, on the fly, in four days. There were lots of tears as we started to put my extra Dad’s life together one last time. There was laughter as we shared stories. Both good things, but for me there was also a layer horror hidden under it all. A profound sense of unrest. I’m not even sure what I was reacting too. I just felt disturbed.
So, I preached to myself. Over and over and over, I recited the truth to my unhappy heart. I knew that my extra Dad had died, but I also knew where he was. I knew that he wasn’t in some void, that he wasn’t lost forever. I know, I know that I will see him again. In fact, the first thought I had was that my extra Dad was now up in heaven with my Yankee Dad. They are up there and someday I’ll be with them. I’ll shed this mortal life with all its temporary, yet heavy burdens, and I’ll join them at Christ’s feet for all eternity. Oh happy thought.
I knew the truth, but the sense of horror didn’t ease up. It just didn’t go away.
What was creeping me out so much?
The Sunday after his Memorial Service we gathered in our normal spots in the church building. That was hard, being there without him. Not hearing his voice while I was singing. Not hearing his ridiculously loud whispers to Wanda during the service. Seeing my husband try to stay emotionally in control. Hearing my extra Mom cry. It was all hard, hard, but good. Then we took the Lord’s Supper. I’m not exactly sure what Jarrett said, but I’m sure it was something about Vidal being with the Lord now, while we’re all still “in remembrance of” Christ. That’s when it hit me: Vidal did not die alone. Not everybody dies alone. There are a few, a happy few, we band of brothers, who do not ever die alone. Christ was with Vidal every step, by horrible step. When we weren’t there, Christ was there. Vidal didn’t die alone. I can’t think of a more beautiful or wonderful thought. Christ, the one who took on death for us, was with Vidal at the end, just like He was through all of Vidal’s Christian life. The Holy Spirit was with Vidal at the end, just like He was through all of Vidal’s Christian life. He was there to help him across the dark waters to the Celestial City, where Vidal is now perfect with no sin. He has seen Christ, his only hope. He is at rest. Vidal is more alive than all of us. He has left the Shadow Lands. He has finished the race, finished the war, found his hope.
The sense of horror slipped away.
Peace has followed me every day since.
I miss the old guy. I miss his love. I miss his support. I miss him being proud of me. I miss him being proud of his son, my husband. I miss his stories. I miss his generosity. I miss him. I will miss him until I join him, but I know he’s safe and so am I. I know that my missing of him is temporary.
It’s strange to lose a parent. It’s strange to face life without them. It’s strange to realize you are going to finish the rest of this life, possibly forty years or more, without them. You can’t share with them and they aren’t there to support you anymore. It’s a strange feeling. Yet there is peace. “Our Father in heaven…” Our Father. We have a forever parent. One who can’t be taken from us, and one who will not leave. He won’t abandon us. He won’t fail us. He won’t exasperate us. He won’t disappoint us. He won’t die. We have a heavenly Father who loves us in the most perfect way of a father with his child.
Here is hope. Here is hope in death. Here is hope in the loss of a man you loved and have loved for years.
Not everybody dies alone, not everybody.