I recently returned home from my mother-in-law’s funeral. It was, understandably, a difficult time for the family even though she had lived to be 102 years old. It is never easy to say a final goodbye to a loved one. Of course, we want to tell them that we love them but often we are at a loss of what else to say.
So, what can you say?
1. The first thing to keep in mind is that this is a time to listen.
What is your loved one thinking or feeling at the time? That information can help direct your conversation and will be of most benefit to them. My mother-in-law, the day before she died, commented, “I am ready and yet I am not ready.” What she meant was that she was ready to be with her Lord, but she was not ready to leave and miss watching her grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up. Her faith was strong, she was not afraid of death, yet she would like to have seen more in this life. This knowledge helped direct our conversations with her. It is easy to assume what your loved one is thinking but it is more important to hear it from them.
2. Don’t deny that your loved one is dying.
To talk about the future as if they will be present or to make plans that you both know will never come to fruition is not helpful for them as they prepare for a much different future. This can be a very intimate time as you both talk and reflect on the reality of their situation. What a wonderful time it is to look to Jesus and the promises that He gives to all who believe in Him. I was a Pastor for 37 years and everyone who I visited while dying found comfort in the Savior. They knew that their hope was in Him.
3. Read scripture, pray, and praise.
Of course, the 23rd Psalm is good, but why not read the story of Creation, the Birth of Jesus, the Transfiguration, the raising of Lazarus, the Easter accounts, or any other of the familiar stories in the Bible? There is so much comfort in hearing the power, provisions, and promises of God found throughout the Bible. It is a well-accepted fact that hearing is the last of the senses to go so keep reading even when you are not sure if your loved one is hearing you or not. When my father was on his death bed, we were talking about hymns for his service and began singing first stanzas of some familiar hymns as we remembered them. I looked down and saw that my father’s lips were moving. He was singing along with us although prior to that he had shown no response! We knew then that he had heard every word we had spoken.
4. Be present and touch them.
While some people may prefer to die alone, most people do not. Even if you are not saying anything to hold their hand or touch their cheek gives them the assurance that you are there with them. I have heard many instances where a squeeze of the hand is met with a squeeze back.
Never forget that the most powerful words are not our words but God’s Word. It is there that we place our confidence for what lies ahead.
John 14:3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Rev. Mick Wolfram – Congregational Services – Lutheran Family Service