Our society is afraid of death. We seldom hear anyone say, “So-and-so has died.” He or she has not died, they “passed.” Consequently, we find it difficult to think about our own death or the death of those we love. Almost without exception, when I visit folk who are on their death bed, no one want to talks about the person dying. As an evangelical Christian I have come to the conclusion that we evangelicals do not help people die. This needs to change, and my change was almost accidental.
The first thing that happened was in a hospital room. Mother was dying and it was apparent the end was near. The entire family was gathered around the bed and no one was talking. I felt the urge to pray for the mother, to ask God to help her die free of pain, and to bless the family gathered there. Instead of being upset the family appreciated my saying what they wanted to say and couldn’t.
The second thing that happened was a phone call from a church member who was dying with terminal cancer. She told me she had been reading the fifth chapter of the Book of James:
Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. 15 This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven. 16 So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect.
Could I come and do that with her? I needed to know what she had in mind. Was she expecting a miraculous cure? No, she simply needed to die knowing that her life was in order. I talked to the senior pastor and other staff members and they agreed to go with me if I did the prayer and anointing. So, we went. I had a small bottle of olive oil. We talked with the woman, made the sign of the cross on her forehead with oil, and prayed God would bless her life and her death and to receive her unto himself.
I have concluded that people want to talk about their impending death though family may not. They have apprehension over the process of dying, as we all do. What does it feel like? What do I experience? Do I immediately go to heaven?
I have concluded that healing can take place without a cure. People need healing of bad memories, the healing of confessed sin, the healing of restored relationships, the healing of all the brokenness in life. It is no coincidence that the Greek word for “healing” is the same word for “salvation.”
I have concluded that families need to talk with person who is dying: to express their love and appreciation, to ask forgiveness for hurts, and to assure the person they will not die alone.
I cannot answer the questions of apprehension, for I have them, too. I can help people to be relieved of unconfessed sin. I can help people restore broken relationships. I can help people make a deeper commitment to God and to accept dying as a normal process. At the same time I am struggling with my own death.
At times, I have prayed God would take a person home so they could be relieved of suffering. That seemed so strange, at first, because our inclination is to pray for continuing life.
My final conclusion: we need to help people die! I am still working on it