The Beauty of a Loved One Dying

I was in Liberia when I heard the news that my Uncle Glen had died. Halfway around the world, my heart filled with sadness as I heard the words over the phone. In the midst of some of the greatest poverty in the world, my heart was stilled by the lost of a beloved uncle and friend. Going to his funeral would be one of the first things that I would do when I returned.

The funeral was a bittersweet experience. My uncle had been suffering with cancer, and I felt relief at his passing. His pain was over, yet he would be greatly missed. He was the sort of Uncle who always made me feel welcomed and special at his house when I would stop by, which I didn't do nearly as much as I should have done.

As I sat there with my own children, wife, parents, and other relatives, holding my little one-year old, I could see those sitting up in the front. His sons. His daughter. His grandsons and granddaughters. And his wife of fifty-five years. My heart went out to them, for in my grief I knew that their grief was greater. I wished that I could somehow magically heal the pain and sadness, but all I had to give was my presence, a hug, and kind words.

Just after that funeral, my high school librarian and friend faced the loss of his wife after forty-three years of marriage. He posted on Facebook, "When the LOVE of your life is in the loving hands of aides and nurses of Home Hospice, all seems so irrelevant. Every moment is MOST important. Life has its journeys, even the final one."

Although it does make the passing so much more painful, there is beauty in being in love with someone for such a long time. In those final moments, we are reminded of how great of a blessing
the one we love and are about to lose has been to us all along. Sometimes we forget that important truth during the arguments and disagreements - during the ordinary moments of life. We should cherish every moment that we have with the special people in our lives. There is almost nothing more beautiful than loved shared for many, many years. That truth becomes all too real in those final days.

The passing of someone is more painful when the love shared with them is deep, rich, and long-lasting. Despite it being more painful, it is worth it. For some never get to experience the joy of true, genuine, and lifelong love.  

On January 25, 2006, officials went Joyce Carol Vincent's home to repossess it because she was extremely behind on her rent and had not been communicating with them. When they opened the door they found a decomposed body sitting in a chair. Joyce Carol Vincent had been dead for three years. Unopened Christmas presents sat on the floor. She had friends, but no deep connections. She had floated in and out of people's lives for years, and nobody in her life was close enough to her to actually check in on her when she fell off the radar. 

Some loneliness may not be as stark as that of Joyce Carol Vincent's. But that sort of loneliness is the type of loneliness that shows we are not living life the way we should. That we are missing out on something greater. We were designed to be in relationships with God and others. As Christopher McCandless, whose story was shared in Into The Wild, wrote in his journal as he was dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, "Happiness is only real when shared."

At my uncle's funeral, my one-year old started to get fussy during the ceremony, so we made our way out to the church foyer. On the screen was a slideshow of my uncle's life. Time spent with his family. Vacations. Holidays. Just the normal, daily moments of life. Seeing his familiar smile, you could tell he was enjoying life. In the midst of the slideshow, there was a video. It was the last dance of my uncle with his wife of fifty-five years. And that same smile. As many people do in passing, they get a last burst of energy , and my uncle used his burst of energy for one last dance with his wife. His greatest friend. The love of his life. Happiness. Shared. Life as it was intended to be.

I don't envy my aunt learning to live without him. But she is doing well. She is strong, with a beautiful heart, and will learn to live with that hole left in her heart. The love people share when they are together for 55 years may make the death of one all the more sad, but that life lived together makes the life itself all the more great. There is something incredibly beautiful in dying when you are truly loved. There is something beautiful in truly living. There is something special about living and passing from this life in the Lord. There is beauty in a loved one dying. We just have to see it.