Today is the nine month anniversary of Gary’s exit from planet earth after nine years of suffering with dementia. (Read more HERE.) May 13, 2015 marks the end of his silence, weakness, and loss, in this life, and the beginning of his perfect life in heaven. There is a special memory from that day that I am ready to share. Recalling this event, from the very end of his life, turns sorrow into joy for me. It is my gift of love and encouragement to you, dear friends. In order to explain, context is needed.
Gary’s body had been shutting down for several days, and on Wednesday morning, there were signs that the end was approaching soon. Thankfully, Gary had no pain or agitation, and therefore, needed no morphine or other medications. His hospice nurses concurred that he was resting comfortably. Our family had been with us all week, and that morning, we had been reading favorite bible passages to him, singing hymns, telling him we loved him, and praying at his bedside, in between repositioning him and swabbing his mouth with water. He was extremely weak, but restful this day, as he had been for months really. If you recall, he had been sleeping/dozing for 20-22 hours a day for many months.
As far as other forms of communication, Gary hadn’t spoken in sentences since 2013. In 2014 he said “Hi” or “Ok” every few weeks. Moments of eye contact were few and far between for all of 2014 as well, mostly because he so rarely opened his eyes. I believe he was still somewhat aware of things, right until the end, because when Pastor MacArthur had visited us a few days before his death, Gary squeezed his hand while Pastor John was praying for him, but his facial expressions had been “flat” for several years.
Looking back through photos, I think the last true smile from Gary was at the end of 2013, in response to something Becky said, and even so, it was not his typical “Gary” grin.
So, that morning, as the signs of impending death increased, we were all gathered around. We didn’t know exactly when he would take his last breath, but we all wanted to be there. Sarah had explained to the children that it is not a sad or fearful to see a Christian die because they will go straight into heaven to be with their Savior. We would know this to be true very soon.
At a little before 11:00 Gary surprised us. He was laying on his side, and his eyes popped open, he craned his neck, and his frail, thin face broke into a huge smile. We hadn’t seen him smile like this in literally years. Silly me, I tried to engage him by asking him, “What do you see Gary?” I was hoping he’d talk to me, or look at me, but it was obvious that he was looking right past me, still grinning from ear to ear. I was shocked because I didn’t know his face was capable of smiling anymore. It was an excited look…truly happy with eyes wide open. I stepped back, so as to get out of his line of sight, and let him fully experience whatever it is that he was seeing. We all saw him looking so happy, and later surmised that he continued in this joyful state for about 20-30 seconds. It was long enough for the whole family to get around on our side of the bed to see him. Then he closed his eyes, and took a couple more breaths, about 30 seconds apart, and breathed his last.
I do not know what Gary saw while his body was dying. He could have seen Jesus welcoming him into heaven and saying what we all long to hear…”well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:23) Maybe he saw God sitting on his throne in indescribable glory. (Revelation 4 & 5) For sure, he was leaving his body, and going into the presence of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) I will never know what Gary saw, until it’s my turn. We are sure, however, that while he was dying, he saw something amazing that made him happier than I have ever seen him.
“You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
Not everyone is conscious, and unmedicated when they die so those standing around may not see an outward expression when a soul passes from earthly to eternal life. No one is exempt from dying, however, so perhaps you will use this little account of Gary’s happy face, to pause and think. Will your first view of the afterlife be as joyful as Gary’s was? Gary placed his entire life in Jesus’ hands because he knew he was a sinner in need of salvation. It is impossible to be good enough to get into heaven on our own. The bible speaks to this. I wrote more about it in this older post HERE.
“His glory is great through Your salvation
Splendor and majesty You place upon him.
For You make him most blessed forever;
You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.”
NOTE: Our Pastor, John MacArthur has written a great book, called “The Glory of Heaven.” It addresses the BIBLICAL description of heaven and the UNBIBLICAL accounts of near-death and other “heaven and back” experiences. You can get it on Amazon HERE.
More from God’s word...
“For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:17-18
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps. 73:25-26
“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for you loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24