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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7,452 people die every day in America.
Wednesday, I knew one of them. He was my uncle Richard.
He was more than an uncle. He and I shared a birthday on Aug. 20. I was born in 1960, and he preceded me in 1938.
He also served as my father figure since 1980 when my own dad died of a massive heart attack at age 46. Since then, Dick, as he preferred to be called, has been one of my strongest cheerleaders.
He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer around Thanksgiving. After some radiation treatments, he was able to ward off the effects of the disease and enjoy six months of a relatively normal life.
The extra time gave him plenty of opportunity to say goodbye to his friends and family, and to impart any last bits of advice or encouragement.
We knew he was getting weaker. Within two weeks, he had transitioned from walking with the aid of a walker, to maneuvering with an electric scooter, to being completely bedridden.
The last few days were the worst. Watching that once strong man who took pride in his strength being completely reliant upon others for every bit of his care was heartbreaking. He had made it very clear that he never, ever wanted to live like that.
Fortunately, he served an incredibly merciful God who answered his prayers, and the prayers of those who love him, so the transition from this life into the next went quickly.
His youngest daughter was planning to visit him in a week, but she expedited that trip and arrived Tuesday night. When she arrived at his home, Dick was sitting up in bed, was lucid and engaged his family in a full hour of memorable conversation. What a gift!
He went to sleep that night, but deteriorated quickly the next day and never woke up. He had struggled to breath for much of the afternoon. Thanks to pain medication, he didn’t suffer much. When the end came, he simply exhaled his last breath.
That’s where Dick’s real story begins.
When he inhaled again, he was in heaven – a place nobody really knows a lot about outside of a few Bible passages and some books written by people who claimed to have visited before they were ushered back into this world with remarkable stories to share.
He and I had talked several times about matters of faith. He knew he was about to meet his creator and he was at peace with the knowledge. He never expressed any guilt, doubt or regrets, for that matter.
Why should he? His slate had been wiped completely clean.
Because he had put his faith in Christ, Dick had been forgiven of anything that was not up to God’s standards, and he stood on that promise.
I know others who claim to be Christians who are absolutely mortified about the prospect of death. I question whether they truly know the Jesus I know.
Dick was a man of faith. Although he didn’t talk about it all the time, it was clear to me where he stood. He had been a lifelong Christian who rarely preached the Gospel, but demonstrated it frequently in his interaction with others.
Sure, he had his flaws and blindsides just like the rest of us. I am sure there were ingrained habits or character traits he wished he could give up, but he didn’t find the power to do on his own. That’s okay.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, Paul writes: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Thanks to his relationship with Jesus, his sins were forgiven and, as a result, he can enjoy eternity in paradise.
As Dick died, I wasn’t really sad. Sure, I would miss talking with him to get his advice or engage in a lively discussion. But, I knew I would see him again soon.
I will likely have a different reaction should other people I know die suddenly while their eternities remain uncertain. For me, heaven will not be the same without them.
Yet, accepting the love and forgiveness offered by Jesus is their decision to make. In that case, they should live it up now for today is the closest they’ll get to experiencing heaven.
Dick knew every day he remained on earth was the closest he’d get to experiencing hell.
In the end, Dick died much the same way he came into the world – surrounded in anticipation by people who loved him. He was helpless and fully dependent on others to meet his needs. He didn’t have one clue what truly awaited him in the life ahead.
Life really is precious and precarious. So, hug and encourage your family and friends often. If you’ve got something to say, do it now for “someday” may never come.
Last Thanksgiving, nobody would have imagined – including Dick himself – that he wouldn’t see Independence Day just 223 days later.
At 9:22 p.m. Wednesday night, Dick’s lifetime of work, toil, angst, worry, confusion and tribulation ended.
It didn’t matter how much money he had in his investment accounts. It didn’t matter what kind of car he drove or how clean his house was. Nobody cared how many card games he won or what his golf handicap was. It certainly didn’t matter what politicians had done that day. The time he claimed to save racing through yellow lights didn’t add one second to his life.
His time was up and he was called home.
Dick went to sleep on earth, and woke up in heaven hearing the words every man truly longs to hear:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!
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