There comes a point when, despite numerous prayers for healing and the efforts of doctors and modern medicine, it becomes clear that a loved one will not recover. The idea that he or she will not be around much longer is hard to swallow. How can this person, who has been part of your life for so long, really go away? It is common for caregivers to have guilt and conflicting emotions — wanting the suffering to be over (and being exhausted from caregiving), yet not wanting the loved one to die. You might spend all your energy taking care of your elder and postpone talking about death, avoiding words like terminal or dying. Your elder might also avoid the subject.
But the reality is that it is important to broach the subject of death, including your loved one's preferences for end-of-life care and funeral arrangements, while your elder is still living. This may be your only chance to talk about your fears, make any apologies, express your love and appreciation, and recall special shared memories. It also may be your last opportunity to help your elder prepare to meet the Lord. The words of Scripture often take on special meaning to one who is dying. Even if your elder is too sick or mentally impaired to respond, you can still talk, touch, and show affection, reassuring your loved one of your ongoing love and care.
Don't Wait Until It's Too Late
If your loved one is approaching death, don't wait until it is too late! Take the time now to say good-bye. Sometimes a dying person lingers because she is worried about her spouse or children and how they will cope without her. This is the time to express sentiments of love and thankfulness to your elder and to give her permission to let go. One couple took the opportunity to say good-bye to a terminally ill loved one in a special place and time, then said, "Whatever happens, we've said our formal good-byes." The end did not come for another six weeks, but they were glad they had been able to choose when to say good-bye.
Just as Jesus made provision for His mother by entrusting her care to the disciple John, let your loved one know that the surviving family members will be taken care of. Don't be embarrassed if you cry. Tears are a natural part of saying good-bye and can help you to let go, too.
Hope in the Word
When the soul is about to return to God, it is a moment of great awe. If you have the opportunity to be there when your elderly loved one takes that final breath, be there. But let your words be few and meaningful. If any sounds can reach the ear now, if any words can touch the heart,
God's words can. Speak to your loved one slowly and distinctly, not in a whisper or in a loud voice but clearly and gently. Singing your elder's favorite hymn or praying the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and speaking the comforting promises of God in short sentences should take priority. Psalm 23 is especially comforting to Christians. Also consider the following Bible verses:
- We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20 NIV)
- Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.
- I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NKJV)
- "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."(Isaiah 1:18 NIV)
- Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV)
- Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:28 NKJV)
- Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42-43 NIV)
- For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13 KJV)
- Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John14:1-3 NKJV)
- So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV)
- Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)
- For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 KJV)
We can expect to grieve the loss of a loved one. Your reaction may be immediate or delayed, and you are likely to feel both relief that the suffering is ended and guilt for feeling that way. You will likely grieve that your loved one is gone and wonder who you are now that you are not a caregiver. You will need to give yourself time to refuel and time to reflect.
Nevertheless, grief is different for the Christian. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope of the resurrection of the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13). "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NASB). Christians await Resurrection Day, when the souls and bodies of the saints who have died shall be reunited and gathered to Christ, that He may present them to the Father: "Behold, I and the children whom God has given me" (Hebrews 2:13 NASB). A loved one whose body was ravaged by cancer will be raised with a glorious body like Christ's (Philippians 3:21). The Christian who suffered from Alzheimer's in this life will be able to look on his Lord with full cognition and joy in heaven.
Even the Comatose Might Hear
Grief is different when you know a person is absent from the body but present with the Lord in heaven. Your tears are not for that person but for yourself (which is a totally appropriate response). If you do not know whether your dying loved one has accepted the Lord, consider praying that God will give you wisdom and a door of opportunity to share the mystery of Jesus Christ while your elder is still alive (Colossians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Even a person in a coma may be able to hear words of Scripture. Pray that your loved one will be receptive to the message. Then leave the matter in God's hands. Your elder may trust in Christ on her deathbed with or without your knowledge. Either way, the decision for or against Christ is a matter of personal responsibility. God will judge fairly, for those who come to Him He will by no means cast out (John 6:37). Genesis 18:25 (KJV) says, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"