During one visit, Bob admitted to me that he was afraid of dying. Like many people of faith, he occasionally had doubts about heaven and eternal life because those concepts defy rational thought, but he had trouble voicing those doubts. After all, people of faith are supposed to be sure.
The first thing I did was assure Bob that he was not alone in having these thoughts. And it didn’t mean he had lost his faith. I reminded him of how Jesus prayed in the garden before his arrest, a prayer wrenched from the same fear and doubt Bob was experiencing.
That seemed to bring him some comfort, but he also said he was afraid of the pain and discomfort he might experience in the dying process. He knew as the COPD worsened it would become more difficult to breathe. In fact, there did come a time when he could no longer sing because he could not get enough breath. But if someone started “Precious Lord” I could see him mouth the words.
Bob’s last few days were spent in ICU, where medications helped with the painful process of dying, but it also numbed him to human interactions. That didn’t keep friends and family away, however, and the afternoon he died, the whole family was gathered. Everybody took turns standing at the head of his bed to talk to him or sing a song. I stood at the foot of his bed and waited.
Then it happened.
There was a hush in the room and I looked over at Bob and saw his spirit lift from his body. It was so quick, I almost convinced myself I didn’t see it, but the image of his smiling face is imprinted on my mind. The deep lines of fear and anxiety had been smoothed by the most beatific smile.
When I was able to share that with his widow later, she said it brought her great comfort to know that he was happy.
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