“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints.” Psalm 116:15
For several weeks my cousin Susan and I sat with Aunt Nancy (my name sake) while she was in the hospital and in the nursing care facility. During her last hospital stay, Aunt had made the decision for her end-of-life- care. This was very difficult to swallow but both Susan and I had promised Aunt that no matter what, we would honor her request and decision. Aunt Nancy was 93 years old and a very committed and dedicated Christian. She studied her daily Bible devotions and had a strong prayer life.
At 93 years old, as long as she had access to her computer, she was on Facebook to her many friends of over 1,900! Her friends were childhood, pastors, and missionaries both active and retired. Her friends were of all generations. Aunt loved life to the fullest.
One day as Susan and I were headed to Aunt Nancy’s house Susan shared a conversation between her and her mom. Aunt was planning here final celebration of life memorial. She knew what she wanted and shared with Susan in their time together. I might add that Aunt Nancy was 100% coherent and awake until her last few breaths. Aunt had a final request that when her last few breaths came, that Susan and I be the only ones present with her at the bedside. With her last few days, Aunt had called her closest friends on the phone and shared with each of them, “I am not going to say good bye. I am just going to tell you that they say I am dying. You and I both know I am not dying. I am just going to close my eyes and then I won’t see you again until we meet in heaven with our Jesus!” Tears flowed from both Susan and my eyes, but not Aunt Nancys’! Aunt was ready to meet Jesus!
Aunt Nancy had Susan ask if I would, at her Celebration of Life Service, give a reflection about how she has influenced my life as a Christian Aunt. I had the task of reflecting over my childhood years and memories and trying to cram so many years into a few moments would be difficult. There was so much to say about her influence in my life.
Sitting in the room at Aunt Nancy’s bedside while she and Susan were asleep, I began wondering what I would say about my memories and thoughts. For a couple of weeks now, Aunt had begun telling us, her friends, and pastor good bye. I knew we would not have Aunt with us many more days. She reminded us there is still work to be done even though she would no longer be in our midst.
Susan was asleep at the end of the bed resting her head at Aunt Nancy’s feet. Even though her eyesight was minimal, it seemed Aunt Nancy could see Susan very clearly. When Susan awoke, Aunt was rubbing her feet through Susan’s hair. Aunt was smiling and enjoying the feel of Susan’s hair on her feet.
This moment reminded of the story of Mary wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair. Remember the story? Judas fussed because Mary was using expensive perfume. Jesus rebuked him saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8).
As a child, I remember spending many week-ends and summer days with Susan and the family. Susan and I were very close, almost inseparable. When I stayed the week-ends, Sunday was the most important day. We got up Sunday morning and went to Sunday school and church. Susan and I got to go to big church when we were too old for children’s church. Most of the time, Susan and I ended up being separated because the giggles seemed to always get us into trouble.
After church, Aunt would take Susan and me visiting with her. That was when I learned about visiting church members, especially the sick and homebound. I do not know how it was decided who Aunt would visit, but she sure picked some interesting people, the bedridden, the mentally delayed, those recovering from surgery, and especially the members who had missed church and Sunday school three weeks in a row!
It seems Aunt Nancy has not been to church now since May (and it is now August) and she was told her pew has been removed. Aunt laughed when she heard that!
Aunt was a good leader and teacher. At one of our most precious bedside talks, we talked about the first Vacation Bible School that I remembered having her as my teacher. I asked her if she remembered the first song she taught me in VBS. I thought how appropriate that song was for her because through the years and especially during her last month of life she often said, “Only God knows the time. God is in control.” Those words reminded me of the song :
I set my life by God’s great clock He knows whats best for me
He times the wind, the rain, the snow.
He times the day and night.
God’s clock, tick- tock is right, tick tock,
There’s none so wise as He.
His hands uphold the whole wide world,
He knows what’s best for me.”
Aunt knew without a doubt, that God was in control. She said her job was to remain faithful. And faithful she was, not perfect, but faithful.
Several times when sitting at her bedside, Aunt Nancy asked for a drink of water. While giving her a drink of water, I thought of Mark 9:41, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
I thought about the times I needed an encouraging word, a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom. Aunt Nancy gave me the cup of water I needed to help me during some of the different times of my life like, when I wondered if I was ready to get married, how to communicate with my mom, our discussion about answering the call to ministry, and when we shared with each other our pain of having lost a child. Oh, how she was an inspiration, a comfort, and full of wisdom. She memorized more Bible verses than anyone I know. She recited the right verse at the right time.
Two weeks before Aunt died, the Activies Director of the nursing home came into Aunts room with a gift. Volunteers had made a few blankets to be given to the residents. Aunt was the first person that came to their mind. The blanket was bright green with white polka dots. Aunt thought the blanket was so pretty. Needless to say, her smile was the biggest thing in the room. She was so pleased and happy. The words, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you” came to my mind along with 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Aunt was a comforter when I needed comforting. She was a comforter to many. She shared her experiences and words of wisdom. She laughed when we laughed and cried when we cried.
Many have been recipients of her teaching, mentoring, nurturing and encouragement. Many have been recipients of her words of wisdom, her love…and even pointing her bony finger when she felt it was needed. Everyone has been recipients of her endless and eternal smile. They remember and talk about her pointing her bony finger at them when she felt the need for correction!
Aunt Nancy, thank you. I choose to miss you less, and remember you more. Thank you for giving Susan and me the honor of walking you home!