He stood by her bed, a gentle look on his face. "You know," he said, "fifty-seven years is a short time."
I have comforted many people as their loved one dies. Often, if I don't know the person well, I have asked "how long were you married" and when the reply is something like "forty years" or "fifty years" I say, "that's a long time." It sounds long -- anything nearing forty years and certainly over fifty years spent with one person, making a home together, raising a family, facing life's daily challenges and pleasures by each other's sides. So it caught me off guard a little when he said "fifty-seven years is a short time."
What probably felt much longer was the five or six years his dying wife had struggled with cancer. He had mentioned the beginning, a spot on her colon which doctors said was nothing to worry about, yet three years later they determined it was cancerous. The initial operation was successful, but within a year or two the cancer had returned, this time in her abdomen. Those cancerous cells were removed and she underwent more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Although the odds had not been particularly good, his wife was such a fighter that she recovered quite well at that stage. However, a few months later she suddenly began to fall a lot and tumors were found in her brain. Before long she decided she had had enough and it was time to let go.
Her husband was with her every day at the rehabilitation facility. Hospice was brought in. Because she could not do it, her husband made sure someone fed her at mealtime until the day she would not eat anymore. Then he sat with her, quietly for the most part, waiting, remembering those many years together, that "short time."
Death comes unexpectedly even when we wait for it. What else could it be but a surprise? We have never died before and do not know, personally, what it is like. Nor do we know what life without a beloved partner might be until she is gone. Death confounds us even when we are familiar with it. Where does our loved one go? Where will we go or what will we be (or not "be") when we die? We wrestle with these and other questions in the face of death. Maybe most of all we wonder about God. Is God real? Are God's promises genuine?
We have no proof of life after death. Faith is totally different from proof - something that can be "proved" with data does not need "faith" from us, only reason to understand. But faith holds fast to what we cannot see. Faith trusts a God we know, not by sight, but by relationship with a Word and how that Word gets embodied in other people. We believe in the life everlasting, not because we have visual evidence, but because the message of God's love has touched us, the strength of God's presence has supported us, the truth of God's promise has moved us to trust it with all our heart. When death comes we rely on the faith we have known over a lifetime, a faith that has grown and matured until we can die trusting in the love of the Creator.
"Fifty-seven years is a short time," he said. It is a short time, but it is not the end. Through God's eternal love there is more life, deeper life, unending life beyond the grave.
In God's peace,