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Helping loved ones die well

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 har…
By Seth Barnes
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.

I 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.”

Comments (6)

  • I’m faced with finding the strength and maturity to be present and helpful to a very brave and sensible neighbor lady, and friend of many years, who has dicided not to work with chemo and other limited outcome treatments for intestinal and liver cancer. She’s full of old school sensibilities and sayings that this world will one day long for again, which makes her eventual passing all the more devastating to me. Thanks for the Loving example of your maturity and thoughtfulness for Nanny!
    Love Don

  • I feel that death is the ultimate reminder of our fragility and finite nature. The more we embrace these two realities the effective we will be in truly living.

    Our culture’s obsession with youth is both unrealistic and adolescent. With an acceptance of aging comes maturity – a rarity in contemporary society.

  • Wow… powerful. I don’t do this well at all. In my selfishness I cling really well. This is challenging… as usual 🙂

  • a copy of a blog I wrote last August:

    Nanny went to heaven last Saturday. As you all know, I’ve always been close to my grandmother. We went on many trips together. (Oh, how Nanny loved to travel!) While Nanny was able to live on her own she lived next door to me. I was so spoiled! Everyone needs that unconditional love and devotion that only a Nanny can give.

    Nanny was also my biggest fan. I’m a praise and worship leader and it was Nanny’s job to go with me wherever I went to sing. She was my “self appointed” manager. Whenever I would write a song, Nanny was the first to hear it.

    Knowing how much she enjoyed praise and worship, I set my keyboard up beside her bed and our whole family sang. The presence of God quickly saturated the room and the peace was undeniable. We knew the time was drawing near for Nanny to depart but she just wouldn’t let go.

    All night we watched her, making sure she was comfortable and not in any pain. The following day we continued to sing, read the word to her, comfort her, and still she held on.

    Saturday, around 4pm we were singing again, watching, and waiting. My mom, aunt, and cousin were in the room. I felt like I needed to talk to Nanny. I walked over to her, put my arms around her, and my face next to her face and whispered in her ear. “Nanny, you’ve done such a good job of raising us that we don’t need you to stay…you’re needed in heaven now. Go see Papa and give him a hug and a kiss from us. Go get heaven ready for us. We know you love us, thank you for everything you’ve done for us. I release you, I love you.” At that moment, Nanny took her last breath.

    An overwhelming peace flooded the room. I felt Nanny leave her body, I felt heaven as she left. My family started laughing and weeping at the same time. We couldn’t be sad! We all knew without a doubt that at the moment Nanny was dancing in heaven.

    My head is still spinning at what happened, I’m so thankful that I was able to witness this beautiful departing. I will never forget the moment Nanny went to heaven and heaven splashed on me.

    I love you all…thank you for your prayers.
    – Faith

  • Maybe the miracle, or mighty work, is not in how God heals the dying and gives them new life in this fallen world, but how He releases them to have an even better life in heaven, and then to be raised later to experience the new and better earth, with his true Kingdom manifested forever.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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