I received the call at 7:30 tonight. John died at 6pm. I was at Universal Studios Theme Park with a group of people who are mentally challenged. There was no way for me to run over to help comfort the family because I could not leave the people who were at the amusement park. So we talked on the phone for about 20 minutes. His sister shared the pain and suffering he endured in his last hours. I talked to her about the visits we had together in the last two weeks.
John started attending Special Gathering of Melbourne–a ministry within the mentally challenged community–about 10 years ago. He soon joined the choir and helped each week to set up the room for worship. A man of few words, he depended on his smile to portray his deep feelings of love, joy and satisfaction. Two years ago, John went to the nursing home because he was expected to live no longer than a few months. Two weeks ago, Hospice was called in and the family was told that the cancer which had been gnawing at his physical body for years was finally destroying his fragile frame.
On Wednesday of last week, I had gone into his room and softly touched his arm. He opened his eyes and looked up. His smile was gone. His eyes seemed larger because his face was gaunt and thin.
I knew his time was short. “You’re ready to go home, aren’t you?”
John gently shook his head.
“You know it’s going to be a wonderful homecoming. You’ll see your mother and father. You’re going to be really happy.”
“I know,” he whispered. I prayed for him and left.
Another member was convolesing in the same facility. She’s a young woman who is confined to a wheelchair and doesn’t speak. The next day I came back to visit both of them. I knew Christine would want to see John; but I didn’t think it was useful to have her see him in the weak and sick condition he had been in the previous day. Before going to her room, I stuck my head in the door of John’s room. The room was bare.
Shocked, I went to the nurses’ station. “Where’s John?”
“He’s in the television room, watching TV,” she said, grinning and pointing to the gray headed man sitting straight and tall in his wheelchair. When I came into the TV room, he smiled and waved to me by lifting his fingers from the arm of the wheelchair. After a few minutes, I wheeled Christine into see him. She had a stuffed yellow chicken toy to give to him. Together, they giggled and played with the chicken that cheeped like a biddie.
We prayed with him and left. That was the last time I saw John but it won’t be the last time that I will see him. He was smiling as he waved good-bye to us.
I think John is singing somewhere in heaven right now. I can’t wait to see him healed and whole. I know from the reactions of our members when we talk about heaven that they look forward to the time that their minds will be made whole. I often ask myself. What will our members be like when they get to heaven?
Who have you lost to death? When you are with a person who is about to reach the threshold of death, are you able to talk to them about dying? What do you say?