Have you ever wondered what is it like to die?
I’ve been asked many tough questions in my life. I used to think there was an answer to almost every question. Even if I didn’t know the answer, I assumed, for most questions, someone did. Someone smarter. Someone wiser. Someone … somewhere.
I don’t believe that anymore.
Actually, I’ve become OK with not knowing the answers to a lot of questions, especially the hard ones. I’ve become more comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and leaving it at that.
One of the toughest questions I was ever asked was:
“What is it like to die?”
Under ordinary circumstances, this leads to some speculative discussion of theories and folklore, or recounting of personal experiences of loved ones passing in your presence. But this was not an everyday circumstance, nor a fleeting thought. It was a very real and serious question preceded with the statement, “I’m scared.”
Patti underwent treatment for leukemia for eight long months. She had a bone marrow transplant in July, and now, the beginning of November, she was finally making plans to go home … cancer free.
A week before her expected release, one aspect of those plans changed. She was still going home, but the cancer returned. There were no more treatments to be done. Oral chemo and blood transfusions might slow the process, but she was going home – to die.
She was 52. My same age.
When she and her partner received the news, they called me. Could I make the two-hour drive to visit? Patti wanted to talk to me.
I really didn’t know Patti that well. I worked closely with her partner for about a decade, but they didn’t socialize much with coworkers. It wasn’t until their lives went on hold with Patti’s leukemia diagnosis that I actually began to connect with her through my visits to the hospital. I knew she didn’t have a strong religious background and her partner was antagonistic towards Christianity. I generally avoided the topic of religion with them out of respect for my coworker’s wishes. At the same time, I never hid the fact my Christian faith was a big part of my life. Her partner knew that.
As I prepared for the drive down, I was in constant prayer mode, seeking help for facing a situation you really can’t fully prepare for. I bought Patti a Bible. I didn’t know if she had one or wanted one, but I know God has used the words in that book in amazing ways in my own life and the lives of others. It couldn’t hurt.
It was just Patti and I in the small visiting room. She was crying. “I don’t want to die,” she said. I didn’t know what to say.
What is it like to die?
I refused to offer her platitudes or empty promises. She was dying. I got to continue living my life.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I don’t believe anybody can answer that question. Even if they’ve had a ‘near-death’ experience, it still isn’t death.”
It was hard. There was a lot of silence. She cried quietly, sitting curled up in a chair across the room from me. Tears slid down my cheeks.
Finally, I spoke again. “I don’t know what it will be like to die, but it isn’t something I’m afraid of,” I told her. “For me, dying is a transition from this life to another one; it isn’t the end. I’ve never believed that. Whatever death is (in experience), Jesus will be there to walk through it with me, and I trust Him.”
I felt totally inadequate to be called on for this moment. I told her I had brought her a Bible, that she might find some hope and comfort from it. I bookmarked a couple spots for her. Then it was time for me to leave.
Patti and her partner came home. They had been told Patti could live another two months or another two weeks; it was hard to predict. They made Patti’s funeral arrangements. They contacted a pastor other friends had recommended. They spent time with family and friends.
It was about 10 days after they arrived home that Patti’s partner called me. “Patti wants to see you,” she said.
It was a Tuesday evening. Patti and I sat on the couch together. “I am so scared,” she said, and she began to cry.
I wrapped my arm around her and cried with her.
“There’s a Bible verse,” I said. “You may have seen signs at football games that say John 3:16. It says, ‘For God so loved the …’”
Patti finished saying the verse for me.
“I don’t know when I learned that,” she said. “Our family didn’t go to church. It must have been one of the times I went to Sunday School with one of my friends. But I never forgot it.”
I shared with Patti the verse tells us death doesn’t have to be the end. That Jesus’ death and resurrection were orchestrated so the curse of death could be lifted and we could have ‘everlasting life.’
I don’t remember what else I said in explaining the message of Jesus’, but when I was done, I asked if she would like to talk to God and tell him she was willing to trust him and the promise of John 3:16. We talked to God. We continued to cry. She was still scared, but she was more at peace.
That Saturday, Patti left this life and entered the next. The experience of her parting is another story in itself.
What is it like to die?
I don’t know. Patti does.
But I’m not afraid to die, because I know who will greet me and walk me through to the other side.What is it like to die? I don't know, but I don't fear it.Click To Tweet
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Kathleen Krueger is a full-time freelance writer from Minnesota. She and her husband enjoy traveling, especially when it involves spending time with their seven grandchildren. She shares her ponderings and poetry on life and faith through her website, KathleenKrueger.com, as well as helpful tips for those beginning their career in freelance writing. You can follow her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/crafterofwords and Twitter @crafterofwords.
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