Illness and Death Beautiful?

You know, over the past seven months, since my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we have had many good moments. In the days since Mum passed away, we have relived many of them, delighting in her assurance of her being the Lord’s and the eternal security that was absolutely sure and certain because of the unchangeable, irrevocable, sure and steadfast covenant made in all eternity within the Trinity.

I may talk about some of these ‘beautiful moments’ at some stage, but first some reality.

Death is not beautiful. Terminal illness is not lovely.
There is simply nothing romantic about God’s beautiful creation being ravaged by the effects of the Fall and of sin. 

Put simply, it is ugly.

There. I’ve said it.

I have read many accounts of the deathbeds of believers and stories are told of the sick relative almost smiling their way into Heaven; of loved ones falling peacefully into the arms of Jesus; and of angels singing as the soul of the believer was carried from the scene of time into the eternal realms.

Well, I am not doubting any accounts I’ve read. I know for a fact that God has granted to many families times of delighting in Him as loved ones were ushered to their Heavenly Home. But I want to tell ‘our story’ if for no other reason than to encourage other families of believers who don’t have such lovely experiences. I don’t want families to wonder whether something was ‘wrong’ with the faith of a believing family member whose experience was much more down to earth, much more gritty, and much less dreamy.

Since Mum was diagnosed with untreatable cancer at the beginning of January this year, she had struggles. Whilst it was the case that her soul rested in the finished work of Christ, whilst she never had any complaints of ‘why me?’ (far from it), and whilst she found countless reasons for giving thanks to her Father in Heaven, yet she could not lift her mind out of the valley into which it went when she received the news.

She did not like having cancer.

Yes, she was thankful. She had assurance of her salvation. She was surrounded by her loving husband and family. But she was sad.

She looked on in awe at others who had cancer but were upbeat and managed to keep living life to the full. She simply couldn’t do it. Although she knew she was going to be in Heaven, and although every believer looks forward to a time when there is going to be no sin in their experience, yet it’s almost as though she was grieving what she was going to lose out on. I don’t know if that’s an accurate reflection of what was going on in her mind, but is it not human (though less spiritual that the way we ought to be) to grieve over what we will not see? She was not going to see her first great-grandchild, due in just six weeks’ time. She was not going to see her eldest grandson marrying, or the younger grandchildren choose career paths. These are very temporal occurrences, and very human ways of looking at things, but until the believer is glorified and made sinless, do we not have a tendency to be temporal and human in our outlook?

As I hinted, this is not a picture-perfect look at how the believer ought to be in their final months. This is simply a look at what our reality was.

In the first few months of the year, she had her greatest temporal delights in being surrounded by her family, and her greatest spiritual delights in listening to sermons, in their daily family worship times with only herself and Dad, and in the prayers of the Lord’s people who came to visit.
These three things were a blessing and a delight to her soul.

As time went on and her body weakened, she struggled to listen to sermons. She was unable to concentrate on anything that lasted the length of a sermon, and so her daily times of listening to sermons with Dad became less frequent.

She still loved her and Dad’s private family worship times and would say, ‘Dad prays so beautifully’. These daily times were her greatest delight. But towards the end of the six months, she needed all prayers to be short. Maybe some people feel this was unspiritual, but isn’t it amazing how we expect more from others than we do from ourselves. After all, I know when I’m unwell – even with a flu type virus or with a migraine – I struggle with too much noise, I can barely make conversation, and my concentration on spiritual things is next to zilch. If this is excusable with a virus, what on earth do we expect when a person’s body is being decimated by cancer?!

Our old minister used to warn his congregation that now is the time to seek the Lord. Whilst God’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save even to our last breath, he always warned us that a time of illness is not the time to begin seeking the Lord …. that our every faculty would be so taken up by our illness that we would simply not have the capacity to think clearly or concentrate fully on other matters. Oh how true! Even when, for decades of our lives, communing with God in prayer has been the most natural way to begin the day, to end the day, and to spend many a spell during a day, I can say with all certainty that a time of serious illness diminishes our capacity for all these things.

So if you are not in Christ, I can’t emphasise it enough: Seek Christ NOW.

Because, honestly, a time of illness will take up all your thoughts, and matters of the soul will simply not be your priority.

And so it was with Mum. As her body weakened, and tiredness was a constant factor in her daily life, she wanted everything to be short: short visits, short prayers, short conversations. Along with a number of other things I’ve learnt by going through this experience, I would know now to keep visits very short with anyone who is very ill. In fact, I will write a post later on ‘What I’ve Learnt … ‘, because yes, as a family we learnt a lot that I hope I’ll have the grace to put into practice in the future.

On Mum’s last day here on earth, and as she told me very matter-of-factly that ‘this is the end, Anne’, we spoke of how illness had so taken up our thoughts over the past weeks and months, that we’d barely talked about Heaven. Again, this was our experience. It wasn’t romantic, but it was a stark reminder of what the Fall has brought into the world, of what sin has done, and of the reality of what physical illness does.
Our constant comfort was not in how we were feeling – after all:
 ‘feelings come and feelings go, 
and feelings are deceiving….’ 
Rather, our absolute comfort was in the unbreakable, unalterable covenant made in all eternity, in which Mum was. This is our assurance. This is our comfort. This is where we all need to be. And this is where our comfort was in all the months that illness took away, bit by bit, the Mum we had been used to all our lives, and this is where our comfort is now that that battle is over.

I’d never before been in the position of seeing illness and death close up. Having seen it, I hate sin and its effects all the more; and I love and wonder all the more at the Saviour who has overcome death, who brings beauty out of the ashes of death, and who is the resurrection and the life. In death, as in life, HE is everything.

Mum and Dad, taken at Catherine's wedding almost two years ago.


Storm by Day, Peace by Night

The storm is changed into a calm
At His command and will;
So that the waves, which raged before,
Now quiet are and still.

Then are they glad, because at rest
And quiet now they be:
So to the haven He them brings,
Which they desired to see.

*      *      *

At midnight, last Saturday night, just as we were entering the Lord's Day, my Mum entered her everlasting Day of Rest. By the time our precious Lord's Day began, she was in the presence of our beloved Saviour.

I will write more later, but I quote these verses of Psalm 1O7 because they spoke to me so strongly as I left Bethesda Hospice at one in the morning. The weather all day Saturday had been wet and wild. It was more like a day in February than a day in July, and the wind and rain battered the windows in Mum's hospice room all day. I am not aware of when the weather changed, but when the Builder and I walked out of Bethesda in the small hours of the night, the peace and calm and beautiful moonshine struck me. All was quiet.

There was peace and beauty outside. There was unimaginable peace and beauty for Mum in her new Home. 

The weather itself seemed to reflect the circumstances of Mum's day and night.

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