The Church

A Lesson in Dying

Keith Echols

My father-in-law, Bill, is dying. This is not a figure of speech; he is literally dying. His time left on earth is limited. As a family, we are preparing for what will inevitably be a hard season.

In times like these, it can be difficult to see anything positive, but in watching Bill I have learned so much. I appreciate him for how he has lived, especially these last eight years in battling cancer. More than this, I admire how he is dying. In him I see a man who has the peace only Christ can give in the face of death.

Treasure the Moments

I will never forget the moment watching Bill watch my eldest son throwing pennies into a fountain at the hospital. It was Bill’s idea, of course; he thought his grandson would have a great time, so we had to make it happen. Minutes before, my boy decided to throw a poorly timed tantrum, the likes of which had me ready to send him to the other side before his time.

The family gathered in the lobby to watch an almost two-year-old boy throw pennies into water. He had to have thrown 20 or 30 pennies into that fountain. He clapped his hands, and squealed with delight each time a penny hit the water. The rest of the family was laughing, while I was seething at him for embarrassing me earlier. Bill, however, sat quietly with a smile on his face. Every once in a while, Bill chuckled as his little grandson squealed.

Looking back, I’m sad to say that in my anger, I missed the moment. I stood there and witnessed the whole scene, and saw nothing at all. Bill saw everything. I can’t help but wonder if, as he sat there, he reminisced of times as a boy when he threw pennies into a fountain.

Maybe, he was simply filing away one last memory of his grandson. Whatever he was doing, he was ultimately teaching me to treasure the moments life brings. He taught me not to be so consumed by my own feelings to the point where I miss out on the life happening in front of my eyes. It is a lesson I will treasure forever.

Have No Regrets

I have not had much opportunity to be with Bill, but my wife and her siblings have. Each time they go to sit with Bill, they return with stories of inspiring things he has done. Once, he was playing some music on his iPad and said, “Let’s take things back to the old days”. He then started playing a song he remembered from when he and his wife were dating. He laid on the bed and closed his eyes, with a little smile on his face.

Another time, he told my sister-in-law to grab some money out of his wallet to go and buy donuts for the nurses in the cancer treatment center that had taken such good care of him. My sister-in-law recorded a video, and showed it to him. He smiled that smile. These moments and many more were created by a man that is not cowering in the face of death. These moments were created by a man that understands the importance of living and dying with no regrets.

Be Ready

When Bill leaves this earth, he will leave one last lesson. That final lesson will be that there is peace in the face of death for those who know Christ. His death will show that believers do not have to fear passing from this life, but that we can live out our final days with joy. On our most recent visit to see Bill, when my wife left the hospital for the final time during our trip, Bill said to her, “I hope to see you again soon, but if not, I will see you on the other side.”

We do not know how much time he has left. Cancer has ravaged his body, and soon his organs will shut down and he will breathe his last breath on this side of eternity. On the other side of that breath, he will experience a reality far greater than the one he has had on earth. As he breaks loose of the shackles of his earthly shell, the nail scarred hands of Christ will be there to welcome him and for one last time, wipe away his tears. And for the ages to come, Bill will smile!

My wife asked Bill if he was afraid of death, or if he was at peace. He then went on to give a simple, but eloquent profession of faith. He is no biblical theologian, but as my wife said, “You don’t need to be a Theologian to believe”. All you must do is believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Christ is Lord to be saved (Romans 9:10). Bill, a believer in Christ, has peace as he faces his own mortality and the inevitability of eternity.

There is no greater lesson that anyone can teach. Thank you Bill for teaching us all.

Have you thought about finishing well? When your time comes to a close, what will be said about you?

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