What Do You Say In The Face Of Death?
As many of you know, my ministry partner of six years, Pastor Ed, passed away last week. This wasn't unexpected, but the last few months progressed very rapidly. I wasn't there when I probably should have been.
In April of 2020, after many years of on and off struggles between us, I was dismissed as "my services were no longer required" and I never went back. I was hurt, especially over the pettiness that the final rift was over. I had seen this same act played out over and over by Pastor Ed. The problem was that he never learned how to build and maintain relationships, not with his wives, his kids, his volunteers, or area churches. Whenever someone would get too close he would push them away.
That being what it was, I had the opportunity to possibly visit him in his last week. I sent a message to his wife, asking permission to come to visit him, and I never got a response back. I don't feel bad because he wouldn't return any of the calls from his children either.
The question that I want to address today is, "What do you say in the face of death?"
As an aspiring pastor, I get called on to visit people fairly frequently. It's easy to visit someone who is sick because you always end with "get well soon, and we'll see you later". What could I possibly say to someone who is not going to get well, and we will probably not see again in this lifetime?
I have watched some interviews with those who volunteer with hospice, as well as some pastors who are much more seasoned than me, and there are a few things that you can say to encourage those in their last chapter of life.
1. Thank You
Thanking the dying person for what they've contributed to you, to their family, and to their community is very important, and the more specific you could be the better.
2. I'm Sorry
If there is anything that needs to be resolved between you and the one dying, now is the time to let it go and let them know that you've let it go.
3. I love you
This may seem awkward or even embarrassing, but if you were ever going to let this person know that you love them and care about them and that they were important to you, now is the time.
4. God bless you
This is an appropriate way for a Christian to say goodby to another Christian. Goodbye implies that we will never see each other again, but that isn't true. We will be reunited again in the Kingdom of heaven.
The following Passage from Isaiah was written to a people in exile who would one day return to their promised land, but it is also appropriate for those who are following Jesus through a difficult time, especially with their death on the horizon.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:20-21
If I could do it over...
If I had the chance to do it over, I would have just shown up to see Pastor Ed one more time, and I would have told him;
Pastor Ed, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve with you when so many other organizations would have passed me over. Thank you for teaching me how to accept forgiveness during a heavy time in my life.
I'm sorry that I didn't fight to keep our friendship going even after such a disappointing break in our ministry. I'm sorry that I refused to help your ministry out when you sent people to ask for me. I was a stubborn fool.
Pastor Ed, I love you. Not because you're lovable, but because Jesus loves you in the same way he loves me, and we should never have become divided.
God bless you Pastor Ed. I wish I could tell you what this leg of your journey would be like, but no one living can explain what the next step looks like. I want you to know that we will be together again someday and it will be more wonderful that anything we experienced here.
Those words will never be said because it's too late, but hopefully, this short post will help you encourage those who are dying and that you won't be afraid of what to say to them when they need encouragement the most.