Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blessed Assurance

Even though Munnie was dying for some time, there was no doubt when the end was truly near. We all stayed with her as much as possible and talked to her, read to her, and sang to her (those of you who know me may find that comical, but she really did like it when I sang - or at least she made me think she did, so I sang my heart out whenever I was alone with her). That last night, Lowell and I left and went back to the house to get some sleep. Lowell's sisters remained until late in the evening and finally went home, leaving her alone. For some reason, Lowell and I both woke up around 1:00 am and decided to get dressed and go back to the nursing home.

When we got there, the nurse informed us that it could be any time now and that she was glad we were there. We didn't call the family because we had been hearing it could be "any time now" for a couple of weeks. Lowell sat on one side of her, I on the other. He was reading the Bible and I was softly singing "Holy Holy Holy". And then she started to move. This may not sound incredible unless you know that her body was not obedient to her mind. She had not willingly moved more than a finger in several weeks, and had not even moved the finger in a couple of days. Yet both of her arms raised up and she smiled one last beautiful smile. Then she was gone. Lowell and I just sat there for a minute, still stunned at what we had witnessed, while at the same time knowing that her suffering was over. Lowell called his dad, then his three sisters to tell them his mother went to be with Jesus.

A week or so after the service and life was getting back to the new "normal" without her here, I wrote the following tribute. I wrote it mainly for Lowell, but he shared it with his family, then with mine, and it got around a bit, so I thought I would post it here in honor of her one year anniversary of hanging out with Jesus!

Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Imagine wondering what’s going on for several months or even years. Imagine sitting in a doctor’s office finally knowing what’s been happening, even if you cannot quite pronounce the terminal diagnosis – Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

This was the death sentence handed to my son’s precious grandmother several years ago. And with this curse, she made a conscious decision to turn it into a wonderful gift. She (along with my father-in-law) decided to use this dreaded illness to teach the children about death, about love, and about the blessed hope that each of us has in Jesus. For this decision, I will always be profoundly grateful.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Watching someone suffer has to be one of the worst feelings of helplessness that there is. I think that the only thing worse is to be the one suffering. Her perfectly good, alert mind was trapped in a body that over time became stiff and rigid, unable to move, to swallow, to speak, and yet she chose to be more in love with Jesus and never bitter, angry or questioning why. Even as she walked out of her home that last day, she never looked back, for she knew that her treasures were not here on earth, but had been stored in heaven.

Of course, she would have never chosen to go into a nursing home. Who would? But little did we know. Her presence in the nursing home was like a light on a dark hill. I watched in amazement as staff brought their children in to meet her, even on their days off. They wanted their own children to see and know this woman. Her good nature and sense of humor showed the nurses and aides that even in suffering and death, with Jesus, there is Light! This was her story, this was her song.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission. When your body no longer does anything you will it to, one must be submissive to the desires of those around them: those who bathe that body and move it and medicate it. But for the submission to be perfect, the spirit must also be willing. Witnessing a loved one slowly dying is not something I would ever wish on anyone, but it is something I think everyone should go through. For it is amazing to see how the spirit lives on when the body refuses to.

Death can, and seems in our earthly minds like it should, be a time of extreme sadness. But my in-laws faced it head on and encouraged the rest of us to as well. We talked with her about heaven and how much we would miss her. Personally, my heart burst with pride and joy as I watched my son telling his grandmother goodbye. Whispers of love - what courage it takes to acknowledge that we may never again (in this life anyway) spend time with a person whom we love so dearly. And what better lesson can we possibly teach our children.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

In the last days, the only thing she could do to communicate was to smile. How thankful I am that her beautiful smile lasted until the end. Whether the family was singing her hymns (or numbers from the musical Annie), or reading to her, or just reliving memories together, it was a blessing to see her smile and assuredly know that any pain her body had suffered was gone and that she was at peace and full of joy.

I was honored and privileged to watch my mother-in-law’s body die. Even writing that sentence feels so wrong, but as the tears stream down my face, I know with no ounce of doubt that although her body ceased to function, her spirit is alive and well and with Jesus.

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

She was always known as a great gift-giver. That is one quality about her that has come up often as we reminisce. And although we are sad and will miss her terribly, she gave us each one last beautiful gift. She gave us a lesson in dying. She taught us that even in dying, our light can shine. Even in dying, we can glorify God. Even in dying, we can love. Even in dying, we can bring others peace and joy and allow them to see Jesus. Even in dying, we can have the blessed assurance that Jesus is ours.

Perfect submission, all is at rest. This was her story; this was her song, praising her Savior all the day long.

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