The hours were long as we sat at the bedside. It had been a meaningful time spent with family, but even so, we were all gathered for one purpose. A dear one in our midst was nearing his final days on earth. It had been a journey of six years as we walked through the changes that came with failing health and altered circumstances. It had all been leading up to these moments… waiting for the end.
Most of the time, there were several of us gathered around, and it was comforting. In the times when I thought of keeping vigil alone, however, I felt a strange kind of anxiety. There was something about sitting there in silence that made me feel uncomfortable… as if I should say something, do something, anything… So I only visited when there were others around… until one sacred Sunday afternoon.
I tiptoed into the bedroom to the sounds of labored breathing and an almost reverent silence. Instantly, my eyes filled with tears. These were the peaceful moments I had been missing up until that point… moments when I could have been reveling in the joyous solitude of the all-too-soon home-going of our loved one. I was almost afraid to break the silence, for it was so beautiful.
But then I opened my hymnbook and began to sing… “Praise to the Lord,” “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “God is so Good,” “How Great Thou art,” Great is Thy Faithfulness.” At times, tears cascaded down my face, but I sang on… my quiet songs blending with his straining breath.
Moments later, family members began to stream into the room and we were no longer alone in our worship vigil; the moment was broken, but the waiting and watching continued. We talked quietly around our loved one, and I wondered what he must be feeling in that moment. Was it hard for him to breathe? Was he in pain? Did he know he would soon leave this world? What could I do to help ease his pain and fears in those final hours? But there were no answers.
As the days passed and we reached Maundy Thursday, I listened intently as our pastor shared a message about Jesus and His disciples praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked His disciples to “keep watch” with Him as His soul was overwhelmed with “sorrow to the point of death.” He expressed his emotions to the disciples at that point, but I don’t think they truly grasped what would soon take place. After all, He had told them of his death and resurrection three times already, and still they didn’t seem to understand. In that last evening in the Garden, Jesus knew He would soon suffer and die for the many sins of this world. The load He carried must have felt unbearable, and in those final hours, he asked His friends to keep watch with Him… only they succumbed to sleep.
The Pastor asked us in all honesty if we would have committed to keeping watch with Jesus. He admitted that he would have quickly said “yes,” that he would have lasted with Jesus until the bitter end. But he knew that in all actuality, he would have succumbed to slumber just like the disciples had done.
As I listened to my pastor’s humble confession, my thoughts shifted to the ongoing vigil at my loved one’s bedside. Those hours of watching and waiting had been difficult, and I knew there were others, like myself, who had struggled to remain there in the long hours. We could see his struggle for breath, and although we were emotionally entwined in this process, we couldn’t physically identify with Him. We could only watch and pray that the final hours would be blessedly brief and free of pain and suffering.
Good Friday morning, I awoke well before dawn. I had committed to pray for an hour to contribute to our church’s 84-hour prayer vigil leading up to Easter Sunday morning. Over the years, I have always held Good Friday morning sacred. I can recall many Good Friday mornings, sitting beside my father in a church pew as we prayed together in the moments before sunrise. I wanted to keep that tradition, so with coffee in hand, I prayed and read Scripture until sunrise.
In the quiet of my sunroom/ office, the phone rang just as the sun broke over the horizon. Our loved one had passed away and was now with Jesus. The tears came instantly, but not merely in grief; these were tears of bittersweet joy. It was truly a good, Good Friday. He was now home with His Savior who had sacrificed everything in order that my loved one might have eternal life. The long night of sorrow had come to an end, and with the dawn came the promise of new life.