Life seems most precious against the backdrop of death

“It’s sad,” my brother-in-law said quietly with a slight shake of his head. He was relating to me how my husband came into the house to get my phone. I had left it charging on the kitchen counter at my sister’s home. I realized I didn’t have it with me when we got to the car. Always quick to help, my husband volunteered to go get it and I told him exactly where to find it. My brother-in-law found him, barely a minute later, looking confused and unable to remember the reason he had come into the house. 

Roland has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We are helpless to stop the ripples of this evil disease as it spreads outward disturbing every aspect of our lives, and lapping against the lives of family, friends, and acquaintances. Scenes like this are part of our daily lives now. but for my family, who do not see him often, the progression of this terrible disease seems rapid, . . . "sad".

“She’s the patient everyone wants,” said a hospice nurse. I smile and nod, but I don’t trust myself to speak around the lump in my throat. I am thinking:  My mom is like sunshine. There is an oft repeated picture in my mind of her singing “Heavenly Sunshine” while washing dishes in the East facing window of the old farmhouse, rays of sunshine lighting up her face. Mom often sang around home as she worked. She has been gifted with a cheerful spirit. Her life has not been without difficulties, but her faith is simple and strong—she believes God will work everything out and all will be okay. Mom’s whole life has been wrapped around the care of others. She taught us the same lesson in Sunday school as she modeled at home: that to order our lives around Jesus, Others, then You would bring us JOY. Mom’s stated purpose as she approaches the end of her life in a hospice program at a long-term care facility is to be cheerful and encourage the staff who care for her daily needs. She puts that mindset into action every day and it sets her apart from patients who allow their pain and discomfort to turn them to complaint and stubbornness.

“I miss her,” my cousin’s wife says simply, and I feel tears sting my eyes in response to those I see in hers. She is speaking of my Aunt Suzanne, her mother-in-law, who passed into God’s presence just weeks ago. Mary Jo is visiting my mother because she knows, as do I, that our time with her is also short. She is mindful to tell my mother how much she loves her and that she appreciates the faith exhibited by my dad’s family as well as by my mom.

“It’s Marie,” I say to my aunt, grasping her hand gently as she lays with eyes closed. “I’ve come to see you.” Aunt Lillian’s eyes snap open and her lips form a silent, “Oh!” Then just as suddenly her eyes close and she is asleep again. I sit in the next room visiting with my uncle and cousins, but she is always in my view. She is beautiful in her unawareness. Her hair white like her mother’s, my grandma. Her lips move occasionally and her hand comes to her mouth as though she is hushing herself. I am awed to be privileged to share these intimate moments with her. She is expected to live only a few days. She recently said goodbye to her sister (Aunt Suzanne) before her death. She is now the only remaining member of my father’s family and she, too, will soon leave us to reunite with them in God’s presence.

These vignettes and hundreds like them are changing the way I think about the value of human beings. I am beginning to realize how much value I have attached to the ability of myself and others to do, to think, to speak, to contribute. Ultimately none of that lasts in the face of death. Whether death comes as a long and slow decline, in a tragic accident, the natural decline of aging, or in a swift attack of cancer, it is not what we can do and remember, or how intelligent we are, or how eloquently we speak that will have lasting impact. It is only who we are in Christ and his activity in us and in those around us that gives meaning to those last moments, hours, and days. 

Others will remember and talk about the experiences we have shared: the times we have laughed together, cried together and walked together. “Being with” will be remembered long after “doing for” is forgotten. Attitudes and actions that provide glimpses of Christ in us will inspire after we are long gone. 

Here’s the thing: Human beings have value because we are created by God in his image. We are set apart from all other created beings as God’s own. When human sin brought death to us, Jesus Christ died for us so we might live. We are saved from death’s finality and given eternal life by God’s grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. There really is nothing else that matters.


  1. Thank you , Marie, for this thoughtful, warm, and uplifting message. Our hearts always ache with the loss of loved ones, but we know that our time on earth is finite---our time with our Heavenly Father and His Son, our savior and brother, will be forever.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Barb. Because of Jesus Christ, we do not grieve as those who have no hope but there is true joy mixed with our sadness because we will see one another again in God's presence.


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