I was in a supermarket with my Son Kurt, when my attention was drawn to a magazine rack with Time magazine avaliable for purchase. The headline in bold letters said, “How To Die.” So I had to buy it to see what Time writer Joe Klein had to say about dying. I was deeply disappointed. While I learned a great deal about Mr. Klein’s ordeal in the death of his aging parents and how doctors and nurses helpful in the process, there was little about hope after death. I have gone through similiar ordeals especially with my father. For both Judy and I, the death of our four parents was a deeply spiritual experience. Mr Klein referred to his experience as a “death panel.” “My parents died serenely, with dignity. When you are a death panel – when the time and manner of their passing is at least partly in your hands – that is the very best you can hope for.” No, it is not a death panel. We need to pray for ourselves and those we love to have “the gift of a good death.”
Mr Klein describes his father’s death in this manner. “Dad seemed to sigh at the end. He inhaled and sighed and was gone. He was not a religious man, but there was a gorgeous sernity in this moment – and there was a certain satisfaction for me too, surrounded by the caregivers who had helped me through this passage toward my own maturity, caregivers who really knew how to give care.” That was it. No hope of eternal life or mention of the presence of God in passing to the other side. But God tells us, “precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his faithful servants” (Ps 116:15). The whole experience of dying is holy, usually filled with the light of God’s presence. Many have sensed the presence of angels. I have experienced a holy presence often in my life as a pastor with those who are dying.
What struck me most deeply about the article was the short exchange between Mr Klein and his father near the end. “‘I really appreciate what you’re doing. You’re a good son,’ he said for the first time in my life. I told him he has been a great dad. ‘I could have been better,’ he replied.” Joe Klein heard for the first time a word of affirmation from his father. His father died with regret regarding his role as a father. How sad, but how true of many father and son relationships. No affirmation or establishing of a deeper relationship until the very end.
So I take away from this article two observtions that I want to say with all the passion I can muster, for the men who are reading this blog. The first is this. Think about you dying, prepare for your dying and talk about your dying with your family. Death is a natural part of living. As followers of Jesus we have the assurance that we have everlasting life. Jesus tells us, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Men, don’t let anyone or anything in this world, rob you of the joy of going to heaven. One fine day, you will die. You will be passing on to something much better. Celebrate that reality. Help those you love to also celebrate that reality with you.
The second take away is this. Don’t wait till the end of life for either you or your father to make things right. If you are a man with an aging father, do all you can to honor him as your father. It does not matter whether he has reconciled himself in relationship to you. Tell your father that you love him. Be sensitive to the fact that he is in his twilight years. If you are a father to a son, above all else give your son all the space he needs to grow as a man in relationship to you. That means you live in forgiveness, giving your son all the affirmation you can give him as your son. Don’t wait till the end. He needs your love and affirmation now. Be the biggest encourager of your son.