Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I went to a patient’s visitation recently – she had passed away after a lengthy illness and we had grown quite close through our years together. I will do this on occasion, not as often as I would like simply due to logistics and schedules, and work obligations….and for the sake of this patient’s privacy, I will call her “Jane Smith” here.
Several things struck me as I waited in line to hug the family and give them my sympathy, and best efforts of comforting words.
First, the name on the wall nameplate in small replaceable letters: “Mrs. Jane Smith.” Often the funeral home will have more than one visitation per night, and so nameplates are important to ensure visitors are in the right hall. The name plate is very small and plain, with replaceable letters that are probably stored in a bucket in a back office somewhere. Looking at this small simple framed sign outside the hall housing the family and Jane’s earthly shell of her body, I was struck by the idea that my name will be on one of those small plaques one day. Maybe even next week. We never know what tomorrow holds, and certainly I have witnessed many tragedies reminding me that tomorrow is never promised. Am I ready? Who will be at my funeral? Will I be young or old? Will my nameplate say “Mrs. Heather White” or will it say “Dr. Heather White” or will it just say “Heather White?” And why does that even cross my mind? Should I tell my husband what I want it to say? Is this something we need to discuss in the unfortunate circumstance that he will one day planning my funeral? Will it be soon or many years from now? Will he plan it or will my son be planning it?
Another thing I cannot help but wonder was whether Jane was there at the visitation? Was she watching? I think we all would have great comfort in believing that surely her presence was in that place.
Some have argued that the deceased can see us, based on scripture from Hebrews:
“Some teach that our deceased Christian loved ones can see us from heaven. They frequently cite from Hebrews 12:1, which says: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us . . . run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
They interpret that to mean our departed loved ones watch us like spectators do in a stadium, seeing our every move and cheering us on. While that may seem comforting, we don’t believe the Bible is really teaching that.
The witnesses in that verse are not modern-day loved ones, but the faithful saints in Hebrews 11 who lived victorious lives by trusting God. Those saints are witnesses to us because their lives testify about the value of trusting God no matter what hardships we face. They are active witnesses who speak to us by their example; not passive witnesses who watch us with their eyes.
Consequently, when we understand Hebrews 12:1 in its context, we realize that it doesn’t really support the idea that our loved ones are watching us from heaven. Our comfort comes not from knowing they can see us, but that they can see Jesus and one day we will see Him with them as well-never to be separated again.” More on that article here
I personally envision such an awesome presence of Jesus when we die and join him that being any where in the vicinity of this place would never be even a possibility – not that we would be able to choose our direction at that point any way. And truthfully, I have more comfort knowing that our loved ones who have suffered sadness and sickness here would in no way have any further burden of grief – theirs, ours or otherwise – placed on them once they have been eternally freed from the frail physical self that held them here!
As I waited through the line, I looked at those around me. The family had not yet come into my view, so I was mostly watching the guests who had come to support the family. I saw people of all ages, and I thought about how close I was to Jane through her journey with cancer, but I had never know any of these people in her life. I was at her side literally moments before she went to heaven, being a part of one of the most intimate moments in her life here on earth. We shared some hard and deep conversations. She had confided in me only days before that she knew her hours were short, and that she would be in heaven soon. She had an amazing peace about her. She was very open and giving about her walk with Christ. She never once questioned out loud, “why me?” Not even in those finals hours and days did she seem at odds about leaving. Surely, she was sad to leave her grieving family, but her knowledge of Christ’s presence through her journey was apparent to all who knew her and none could be sad that she was clearly on her way to sit next to her Heavenly Father soon!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. (Hebrews 12:1-4, 12, 13 NLT)
Some of the people in line were sharing memories about Jane, and how peaceful her spirit was, and what a giving person she had always been. I just stood there and heard voices all around me talking about her strength, her happiness, her peace, her generous self. I had known this about her too. Others in line were quiet, and I saw tears softly trailing down the faces of total strangers there beside me. We were sharing in a common emotion over someone we both intimately knew, and yet standing in the line with each other we were perfect strangers with nothing to say to each other. Our hearts were heavy.
I reached the family and heard stories of happier times from one of Jane’s siblings. The pure joy mixed with bittersweet sadness is an expression not easily described. It is one that only can be worn in true family love.
I embraced every family member there….some I knew well, from sharing those very tough moments at the very end of Jane’s life. Others I had just met that night in the receiving line of the funeral home. I came to the realization that although I felt like I was making the trip through that line for the sake of helping the family, I now know that it was for my own healing that I chose to walk through that visitation.
We go through some tough steps in life and have trauma and sadness and in so many ways, God gives us opportunity to heal and see the events from an entirely different perspective. Had I not had that precious time visiting the family that night, my last memories of Jane would have been those moments of her final hours…..very difficult images to get out of my mind. True, with time the hard memories will fade. But just as I had experienced with the passing of my father from this life to eternal heaven, if I had been left only with the memories of the hours of his death, I would never be able to sleep again, picturing his struggling breath and confusion in dying. My father’s funeral was healing for me then too. I had the love and support of hundreds of angels and loved ones carrying me along, reminding me of the happier memories of my dad, and more importantly, reminding me that my dad isn’t suffering here any more …. he is sitting with the King, eternally happy and peaceful until we are united again.
Cancer, injury, sickness, suffering and death are things we fear greatly during our time here. God sees this and knows our fears. He provides a solution to all of those anxieties. His word heals and restores us. For some, it is the funeral that is the first step. For others it may be the moment our loved one passes from this life into the next, shedding the cancer-burdened earthly body in exchange for the shared eternal company of our Heavenly Father. No suffering of any kind is permanent. We are redeemed and saved through Christ who heals all of us. He took every sickness, every suffering, every sin away on that cross. We have nothing to fear, knowing in the end, where we will be, eternally next to Him, our Father, our Redeemer, our Healer, our Comforter. Our Everything for always.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
And so I have decided that on my nameplate, whenever that day may come, I want my nameplate to read “Heather White, daughter of the King.” I want my family and loved ones to rejoice that I am with Jesus! The pure joy will be beyond what our feeble minds can even begin to comprehend, but that doesn’t keep me from imagining how completely awesome it will be! I will then be waiting in heaven, with not a burden of sickness or suffering any longer. The path has already been made and I am already in His hands for whatever journey awaits me.
John 14:1-4 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”