The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)
This week my mother was admitted into a hospice house. Mom is very weak, but alert and aware of her surroundings. She can’t even roll over. Breathing is hard for her. She has to do it intentionally, which is uncomfortable and tiring. She told me and others she is ready to go and be with Jesus. She’s not speaking in a metaphor or feigning false hope. Faith is natural to mom. She knows whom she has believed.
Mom has been slowing declining for some time now. My two sisters spent much of last year taking care of our parents in Ohio. That’s been a huge commitment because they normally live with their husbands (and pets) in North Carolina and Wyoming. But the past year has not been normal. Our brother died last May after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Our parents have needed increasing care. So my sisters stepped up and helped. They have carried all my share of care, for which I’m grateful. Sometimes I joke with them and ask if they’re still married. Fortunately, they both are blessed with flexible and faithful husbands.
Much of last year was a stalemate as dad resisted moving to assisted living and the required stairs in their split-level house became more problematic. I have often joked with mom, saying “What were you thinking?” about the split-level house they designed and built in 1964. She always laughed and said it was just right for the family. It was. It’s still home to me.
They were still searching out other solutions in February when mom became ill and had to be hospitalized. Since then she has never been able to regain her strength. The last time I talked with her at home was Easter Sunday. That week she was hospitalized for what may be the last time. This week as my older sister was driving from the hospital to the hospice house for the transfer, I naively asked if mom was with her. I deserved the sarcastic answer she delivered on the phone, saying, “Right! Mom’s bed is in the back of my car.”
It turns out mom may bypass both assisted living and the nursing home. It’s unlikely she’ll go home to dad. She may be graduated to heaven from the bed in which she now lies with discomfort. She is not at death’s door, but her sojourn’s end is likely not far away on the horizon.
When I asked mom this week if she is afraid, she immediately said, “No.” Then she hesitated and added, “But I’m not sure of the process.” That, of course, is the great mystery of life. We walk the valley of the shadow of death only once. Nobody returns to explain what lies on the other side of death.
Except for one. Jesus came back from the grave and has told us what lies beyond. He’s been there and can describe it to us. Death is not oblivion. It leads to a place Jesus has prepared for us. Because he lives, we too shall live. Mom and I talked about that on Easter Sunday.
I have told people hundreds of times that the other side is far better than this side. I still believe that. I said it to mom again this week. Heaven is not just a “where;” it’s also a “who.” Jesus referred to his death as “leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). Heaven is about a relationship with a God who is intimately knowable.
Mom already knows God. Sometime soon, she’ll get to know him face to face. That’s far better. What a privilege!
Postscript: Shortly after posting this entry, I received word that mom’s death might be sooner than I had anticipated. That’s not a reason to panic. It’s a reminder that our times are in God’s hand, as King David eloquently penned in Psalm 31:15. When we are in God’s hand, all is well. Mom told me on Tuesday she is looking forward to heaven. It was well stated. Heaven is worth anticipating.