What goes through your mind when the human person you most love is in the last stage of living on this earth? Of course, I can’t speak for everyone. I don’t even know if I can speak for anyone but myself in this regard. (I have not been part of a support group for surviving spouses in which, I suppose, time is given for folk to tell their stories, and share their thoughts. I imagine that some might say I have made a mistake by not taking part in such a group, and they may be right, but I don’t know.) In any case, I am back to the question with which I began, and my response is personal, for whatever value it might have.
In the last months of 2008 and on into 2009, Joyce was very sick with pain and nausea. Some was due to the cancer and some was due to the treatments she was receiving. To say she was increasingly becoming debilitated is a vast understatement. As I did what I could and was on, as was she, an emotional rollercoaster, I also was doing a lot of reflection on what I then considered deep issues, and still do consider them such. Joyce was so much part of me that I saw not only her life, but mine also, fading away.
Two weeks from today will mark three years since Joyce entered the Lord’s presence. During these three years, I am not sure much has changed – I still emotionally and intellectually deal with death, both hers and mine.
Just as our daughters appear to have continued to live alright without their mother (and I wouldn’t want it any other way), I am becoming increasingly aware that they could also make it without their father. Yes, I may make some contributions in the meantime, but their ongoing life is not dependent on mine; I wouldn’t want it to be. At some point, they will experience what I have already experienced, becoming an orphan. My death will then contribute to their ongoing growth of depending on God.
Perhaps there was a time when my life was contributing to their dependence on God; I doubt if much of that is happening now. I work with the idea that they have gotten all the ore that could be excavated from the mine of my life, whatever little or much there has been. Only God knows; I certainly don’t.
Now, at this point in my life, I wonder if the only remaining major contribution I will make to them will be that of departing. Such was the situation with my parents, whose death made me move to the stage of being parentless and thereby forced to see myself in a light I did not have before. In fact, my daughters will even, themselves, reach that point eventually. Such is human life, and death.
It is the context of what I have just written that leads me to wonder if I am straining Jesus’ comment when He told his apostles that His leaving the earth was advantageous for them. Did He know that their experience of God’s salvation, of His love, of His purpose for their lives, of their unity as His disciples, and probably other things as well, could only go so far as long as He was physically present? Believing He did know, I ponder the idea that His final gift, inherent in the incarnation, was His departure. It moved them into the next stage, that of waiting for His return with all the possible spiritual maturation that accompanies that period.