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January 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Death

To survive I need hope, so if faith and the hope of life beyond the grave is a crutch for the weak, sign me up.


My grandmother is dying.

When she passes, she will leave my father an orphan, joining my mother who’s been an orphan for 23 years. The “next line of defense” will have passed on, ushering my parents one step closer to eternity.

Ushering me one step closer.

Gram, as I call her, has been suffering. Her 89-year-old, weak body has been starved to the point that it has begun to eat itself, leaving her at 70 pounds. She has a bit of dementia, and when she looks at a photo of my grandfather and her, she claims that she knows them but can’t quite place who they are.

When I saw her the week before Christmas, she still knew me. I held her cup of sweet tea as she sipped it and gently rubbed her hands and silently prayed that she wouldn’t linger.

Death is a terrible reality. And we can do absolutely nothing to stop it. We can only sit by helplessly and watch it speed up the clock, as the future becomes the present, which too quickly becomes the past.

When Gram leaves this earth, everything for those who remain behind will change. The home I used to visit from childhood until two weeks ago will be sold to another. Gram’s sharp wit will be quieted. The plethora of her pig collection will be sold or given away or trashed. We’ll be left only with memories.

Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame wrote of his mother’s death and the grief that accompanies it: “The difference between joyous crying and sad crying is only for the young. . . . I’m old enough to know that I’ll never again really know why I’m crying. . . . I could make [my mom] laugh. I could make her laugh harder than anyone in the world had ever made her laugh. You tell me, am I crying now with sadness or joy?”

I understand that emotion too well. I can think of the Christmases Gram spent with me and how much we both looked forward to them, and the Cubs game we went to, and the times she played grocery store with me when I was a little girl. And I have no idea whether I’m crying for joy at the memories or sadness at the loss.

Penn and I share that understanding of grief. The difference between our mourning, though, is that Penn is an atheist. When his mother died, for him, she simply ceased to exist. And truly all that is left are memories.

Some people believe that faith is a crutch for the weak. You cling to faith when life is difficult and painful so that you can make it through the suffering. There is no God who comforts. There is no eternal home. We all simply cease to exist.

As I’ve contemplated my grandmother’s certain departure, and as I’ve cried tears that were both joyous and sorrowful (not knowing the difference), I’ve realized again that if faith truly is a crutch for those who need help making it through the suffering, then sign me up.

I don’t want to live with the thought that this life is it.

I want to live believing that “the LORD’s loved ones are precious to him; it grieves him when they die,” that he comforts us, that our memories are sweet, but just a promise of the joy that is to come when we will never again be separated from our loved ones. I want to believe. I want to have hope. Because we cannot survive without that gift from our Creator.

And in the depths of the dark night, I want to be able to say, “I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.”

I want to sing hallelujah—not just when my life is smooth and good and I’m surrounded by family and friends. I want to sing hallelujah when I’m suffering, because it means so much more. Because it’s saturated with hope.

And so as I say goodbye to my sweet Gram, I will raise my eyes to the heavens, to the Maker of heaven and earth—to the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who has a plan for us, who loves us, who never forgets us, who has numbered our days, who is preparing a place for us—and thank him that it isn’t truly “goodbye,” but “until we meet again.” And to that I cling hopefully and gratefully.

Ginger Kolbaba is editor of Today’s Christian Woman. Her grandmother passed away on Friday, January 11, 2013.

Related Tags: aging, comfort, death, difficulties, disease, elderly, eternal life, heaven


Thank you so much for all your encouraging messages.
May our loving and caring heavenly Father hold you in His arms and comfort you as you are grieving.
with much appreciation, Nelly

Nelly - thanks so much for reading and responding, and for your encouragement! Peace and blessings to you as well :)

PRaise GOD!

Death is a graduation from here to the Heavens.

It's GOD's way of releasing us from this earthly bodies and to our glorified bodies with Him.

Oh death where is thy sting?
God conquered death and hell.

God bless you as you mourn for your GrandMa.

My grandfather died 1/1/13. He's the only father I've ever had. Thank you for this.

Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I spend a lot of time crying and wondering how I will handle the passing of my parents. They are 80 and 84 and both were ministers. They have been a great source of love and strength. I watch them deteriorate everyday and pray that I will be able to handle the separation. Most of all I pray that I will be courageous enough to pick up their light add it to mine and hold it high for my children and grandchild. Ron and I are praying for you and for your family. What a joy to know that once we pass from this life that we can truly rest in the arms of our Savior.

I pray for much strength for you, Ginger, as you face your beloved grandmother's death.

I need to say, however, that I am uneasy about some of this post (and at least one of the responses to it). I'd like to suggest that we Christians should quit using the (rather recent) euphemism "pass on" to speak of death, and particularly the death of fellow Christ-believers. The world uses that ambiguous phrase because the world is uneasy -- if truth be told, likely terrified -- of death and what happens beyond it. Honest use of language should be a hallmark of Christians. How about we just use the word "die," as Christians have for centuries. Yes, death causes intense sorrow in us because of the separation it creates. Yet for us, we can ask rhetorically with Paul, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"

I'm not at all minimizing how very difficult it is to be separated from our loved ones who die (or are dying). I entirely empathize with such grief, having early lost both parents, my grandparents, and later a college friend and two of my four siblings. I mention that ONLY so that readers know that I'm not being glib about understanding the sorrow of grief. That said, our hope and focus is not first of all (should not be, anyway) on any eventual reunion with our loved ones. Our hope and joy is founded on the fact that they are with Jesus at the right hand of God. And so will we be is we trust him. The focus of any Christian's dying must be, as Paul says, union with CHRIST. THAT is what assuages our grief above all. Paul, in fact, never mentions anything about reuniting with family or other Christians. That, in his mind, obviously pales in comparison to being united with Christ. We do know that there is a "great cloud of witnesses" -- All the believers who have died, including many thousands martyred for their unshakable faith in Jesus -- before God's throne praising him, but who also crying out, "How long, Lord?" -- i.e., how long will you tarry before you return and renew all things?

In reference to the comment someone else made about receiving our glorified bodies in heaven: I must gently point out that that's not what the Bible teaches. We, when we die, and those who have died before us (with a couple of exceptions in the Old Testament, and Jesus himself, of course) leave/have left our bodies on this old earth. When Christ returns and we are resurrected, our BODIES will rise "incorruptible" -- as Jesus' body after his Resurrection. And we will live on the new earth (refined by fire) as embodied human beings once again -- embodied as we were created to be, but this time "glorified"; and this time eternally, and eternally in the presence of God on our new-earth home. When we confess with the ancient Christian creeds, "I believe in the resurrection of the body"/"I believe in the resurrection of the dead," that's what we're confessing, not about being spiritually united with Christ in heaven. Heaven is not the last step in our renewal!

I realize there are differences of interpretation among Christians regarding the specifics, the Millennium, etc.; my point is not at all to argue any of that, only to remind us that when the Bible speaks of our rising from the dead it's talking about our BODILY resurrection -- our becoming wonderfully, gloriously, fully and perfectly integrated body-soul-spirit human beings that God created us to be, and that we can at last be when Christ our Savior fully consummates his Kingdom.

Thank you for the hopeful words in your article and for making the distinction between the Christian’s view of death compared to an atheist viewpoint. My father passed away just before Easter of last year, and if I were to see his death as “those without hope” do, the loss would be unbearable. A comment was made above by someone who said she spends a lot of time right now, even though her parents are still alive, worrying about the day they die. Don’t do that…spend your time making memories, and most importantly- taking pictures. I was so sad to see that the most recent picture I had of myself with my Dad was 15 years old…don’t let that happen. Enjoy them while they are still here.

Praying for you and your family.

I wrap my heart around yours, Ginger, with deep understanding. We lost both our remaining parents this year, my mom at 98 and Steve's dad at 98. Amazing today how many times I want to call them up, or wake in the night remembering their words of advice, their laughter. Now, my only brother has inoperable brain cancer. I am grieving already, but watching and hoping for God's hand in His life to awaken faith. Death is indeed an enemy. Without Jesus as our Savior, we are "of all men (women), most miserable." For now, I celebrate life daily. God is near.

It was a huge blessing to "see" Jesus through my mom's eyes a few hours before she went to heaven. My "Late Night Journaling" is the first link at http://www.mypalomarmountain.com/mom/ You are welcome to share. My mom didn't go to heaven alone. She was at total peace to see Jesus and my dad, come to escort her. Heaven is for Real!

Thanks for your encouraging message!

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll pray for you and your family.

It is a great comfort to know that you will see your grandmother again one day! Hallelujah!

I'm riding to my grandfather's funeral right now. As I was going thru emails I noticed this article and am so thankful it crossed my path at this time. My Popo died on jan 14, one week short of his 92nd birthday. He was a godly man who loved his family.
Thanks for your words and others comments. True blessings to me today. Pray for me and I'll pray for you.

Beautiful. My grandmother passed away December 11, 2012. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

It is well with you at this period. when christian talks about death, its just to prepare our mind and make us to check our standing with God. We should not be afraid because its a channel to eternity that we all long for. it is well with us.

Thank you so much for all your kind words, thoughts, and prayers on my behalf. I feel overwhelmed by your outpouring of goodness. Prayer is an amazing power, and I felt those prayers in ways I can never fully understand or explain. My prayer is that you will experience that same peace, comfort, and love. Many blessings on you.

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