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Helping loved ones die well

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I got a call from Jose Cantu, telling me that doctors have said his brother Robert, my friend and former coworker, would die this week. Do we pray for a miracle, or do we release him to God? As with all prayers for healing, I think it depends on what God is saying. I still remember how hard it…
By Seth Barnes

I got a call from Jose Cantu, telling me that doctors have said his brother Robert, my friend and former coworker, would die this week. Do we pray for a miracle, or do we release him to God? As with all prayers for healing, I think it depends on what God is saying.

dyingwellI still remember how hard it was to let my Aunt Ruth go.
We stood around her hospital bed and could see that she was conflicted
about going. She had hung on to life until we arrived. She seemed afraid of what was coming. She couldn’t speak, but there was a fear in her eyes. Within hours after we arrived, she died.

As we think about Robert, God seems to be saying, “Let him come home.” He’s lived a full life. He’s been a missionary, a business owner, a professor and college dean, and a father. Life has never been easy for him, but it has been full. And God seems ready to welcome him.

Last night, Jose put the phone up to Robert’s ear. I told him I loved him, and I read him the 23rd Psalm. I’ve been his confidante for 14 years. He and I have been rehearsing this week for about three years now, but it doesn’t make it any easier. A while back I wrote the eulogy I’ll deliver at his funeral and sent it to him. I’ve always thought that whatever good you have to say about a person, you should do it while they’re living.

In this death-denying culture in which we live, we need to
wrestle with this hard subject before it comes up in our lives. I love what Henri
Nouwen says:

“One of the greatest
gifts we can offer our family and friends is helping them to die well.
Sometimes they are ready to go to God but we have a hard time letting them go.
But there is a moment in which we need to give those we love the permission to
return to God, from whom they came. We have to sit quietly with them and say: ‘Do not be afraid … I love you, God loves you … it’s time for you to
go in peace. … I won’t cling to you any longer … I set you free to go home
…. go gently, go with my love.’

Saying this from our heart is a true
gift. It is the greatest gift love can give. When Jesus died he
said: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit’ (Luke 23:46). It
is good to repeat these words often with our dying friends. With these words on
their lips or in their hearts, they can make the passage as Jesus did.”

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