Parting Can Be Such Sweet Sorrow
By Greg Asimakoupoulos
When my father was dying seven years ago, the principles I practiced as a pastor were tested in a deeply personal way. Gratefully, I discovered that my approach to pastoral care in the church I served was also appropriate in the home in which I’d been raised. As my dad took his final breath, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no regrets about the way I had helped care for him. The sting of death was eased by the knowledge that I had made the most of those final few weeks. Just as stinging bees produce honey, so the following “be”s can help sweeten the reality of saying goodbye.
Don’t make excuses for not visiting a loved one or a friend whose days are numbered. If you live nearby determine you will make the effort to drop by on a regular basis. Your presence is more important than presents in brightly wrapped packages, phone calls, text messages, or greeting cards.
As you enter the room of the terminally ill person, make note of the situation. Take your cues from what you see. Is your friend in pain? Is she in good spirits? Are there too many others in the room? If so, it just might be best to leave and come back later. If you feel it’s appropriate to stay, limit your visit to 5-10 minutes.
Regardless of your family member or friend’s spiritual condition, confidently express your gratitude that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Speak up and share a Bible verse that has been a source of comfort to you in difficult times. Psalm 23 and excerpts from Romans 8 are often appreciated. If singing is something you feel comfortable doing, softly sing a hymn or two. Choose lyrics that speak of Heaven. Songs like Blessed Assurance, Softly and Tenderly or Amazing Grace are good ones. Before you leave, offer a brief prayer thanking God for being our hope in life and in death.
There is nothing wrong with sitting in silence beside the person you are visiting. Simon and Garfunkle aren’t the only ones who celebrate the inarticulate beauty found in the sounds of silence. Depending on your relationship with the dying individual, you may want to hold their hand as you sit by their side. If there is a bottle of body lotion nearby, ask if you can massage their hands or feet.
In all likelihood the person you are calling on knows their days are numbered. There is no need to offer false hope by saying things like “When you get better we can go to the ballet” or “I’m praying you’ll soon be back on your feet.” Rather, communicate your excitement that you’ll be seeing them again in Heaven before too long. Express gratitude for what that person has meant to you. Make mention of special memories you’ve made.