Several weeks ago my dear friends Chris and Rebecca shared with us that her grandfather, Art, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The doctors considered it terminal and inoperable, describing it as one of the worst forms of brain cancer. He would have only a couple of months to live and for much of that time he would be in terrible pain. Like the rest of their friends and family, we prayed for this family, asking that God would strengthen them and that He would either heal her grandfather or take him home before the pain became too intense.
Rebecca’s family is spread across three provinces and one state - thousands of miles, yet in the weeks following his diagnosis, her grandfather was able to spend time with each of his children, his nine grandchildren and their spouses and his four great-grandchildren. Soon he and his wife were in small-town Saskatchewan visiting Chris and Rebecca and their immediate family. Their little daughter loved to hug him, sit on his lap and rub his face between her hands. She squealed with delight when she saw him and the family was able to capture some wonderful pictures and video of them together. He also delighted to meet his newest granddaughter who is only a few weeks old and who was named after his dear wife. Rebecca was able to spend some precious, quality time with him; sitting at his feet and listening to him recount God’s goodness and faithfulness in his life. He and Chris sat together playing the piano and singing hymns to the Lord.
Art was at peace with what he knew was coming. He was ready to die. At the same time he never doubted that if God saw fit, He would be able to send the cancer into remission and to extend his life here on earth.
On Tuesday evening he was feeling tired and went to lie down. The family slowly migrated to his side and they spent the evening there with him. He sat on the couch, holding his wife’s hand, reminiscing about how they had met and had fallen in love. He told about his young son who had died many years before. Then he took Chris and Rebecca’s baby in his arms and read her a blessing from the book of Numbers. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” And then, in the midst of answering a question Rebecca had asked him, his head settled back, his chest rose and fell a couple more times, and he was gone.
Perhaps it is more correct to say that he had arrived. He had left his wife’s side - his wife who had shared his life with him - and had gone to the side of His Savior, who had given His life for him.
The family found out later that at the very moment he died, but on the other side of the country, a prayer meeting was underway. The church that Rebecca’s uncle attends was praying that God would take him home soon, to spare him an excruciating end. God saw fit to answer innumerable prayers. He spared Art so much pain, but first allowed him to spend some precious moments with his family - moments that will never be forgotten. Imagine how precious the blessing will be to Chris and Rebecca’s daughter when she is able to understand it. While she will not remember her great-grandfather, she will know how he loved her and held her up before the Father.
And it was such a blessing to me to hear about this man of God. Now I do not mean to glorify death, for I know that however and whenever it happens, it is unnatural and a consequence of human sin. Yet there is something so immeasurably beautiful about the death of one of God’s servants. To know that a man who loved God and lived life in His service has gone to his home! He has escaped all that is unnatural in this life and has gone to be with the One he was created to communion with.
This does not make death easy to deal with. It does not take away the pain. But it certainly dulls it just a little, to know that he is infinitely happier in his new home than he was at the happiest moment on earth. Poet Ben Jonson once wrote a beautiful poem, which though written following the death of his son, can apply to all believers.
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage”
Following the death of his daughter, Jonson wrote another moving poem in tribute to her.
“Yet all heaven’s gifts being heaven’s due,
It makes the father less to rue.”
And so it does for a father, a child or a grandchild. The pain is tempered by the joy. Like our worship of God, which ought to be filled with great joy but also appropriate gravity as we enter the presence of God, so the death of a child of God is an occasion for both joy and sorrow, celebration for a life lived for God, celebration for one who has finally been given his heart’s desire, but still pain for one who will be missed.
I have thought about Art a lot since he died, though I never met him. I have often prayed for Chris and Rebecca and the family that the Comforter would bring them peace. And I have prayed that God would let me stay strong, just like Art. Truth be told, I cannot think of a more beautiful way to die, than in the presence of those I love most, holding the hand of the one who shared her life with me. That I might be able to go from the hand of my wife to the hand of the Savior is almost too beautiful to believe. Thanks be to God that we can all have hope and such assurance of eternal life, if only we will trust in Him.