Journalist Janice Turner is grateful for the carers who are looking after her frail elderly mother. (The Times, Feb 22.) She says they have PhD’s in death. They know, as the residents know, it’s the last stop on the line. She writes, ‘To make the journey comfortable, let alone convince passengers to forget their destination, is a remarkable feat of patients, emotional vigilance, and more.’
For Christians the aim is exactly the opposite – to focus on the destination, anticipating ‘all that God has prepared for those who love Him,’ 1 Corinthians 2:9). Sometimes the wall between earth and heaven seems thin for elderly believers, as though they sense the reality beyond the veil. Some can even feel impatient that God has not called them Home yet. Katherine, a 105 year old in our Haslemere home asked the manager how He would take her, as there was nothing wrong with her.
‘To live for ever in a fallen and decaying body is not a blessing, but a curse. So in God’s providence, death may be a merciful release from an existence trapped in a disintegrating body, ‘ writes Professor John Wyatt, retired Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London and author of several books on ethical issues.
Not only that, but ‘the Christian faith helps us to see that dying need not be a totally negative experience…. The end of our lives on this earth may be transformed by God’s grace into an opportunity for growth and internal healing. We need to emphasise that dying is really a spiritual event, even if it has medical implications.’ (Evangelicals Now, September 2015.)
Emma Hughes, end of life specialist nurse and manager of our Bethany home in Plymouth agrees. ‘‘The last few days can be lived more intensively than at any other time,’ she said. (She is a major contributor to PFS’ booklet, ‘What Matters in the End’.)
We’re familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s statement that nothing is more certain in life than death and taxes. We are happy to talk about taxes, but rarely discuss death – in fact, we avoid it. Yet the end of life experience is something that relatives and residents need to have in mind before they come into the home, according to Beth Kneale, manager of our home in Wantage. Beth has been manager at Framland for many years, and this is one of the aspects of care she discusses with families at the outset, finding out what is important to them. And at the end, when the person has gone to be with the Lord and leaves the home for the last time, instead of a plain, black covering for their ‘earthly tent’, they are covered instead with this beautiful colourful quilt, a ‘first-fruits’ hand-made offering by a lady called Jo at Beth’s church.