Before I begin my musings on the lessons I am learning at my father's bedside, I would like to say that I'm am positive these lessons aren't helpful for everyone. If you are reading this and the lessons do not pertain to you, or mesh with your understanding of death, dying, and grief, then let us agree that there are different perspectives and that one person's point of view does not have to be wrong so that another person can be right, nor am I by saying these things, suggesting I have all the answers. There are as many different understandings of death as there are ways of dying and people who are dying. These are simply my perspectives based on my experience, both from a daughter's point of view, and as a pastor who has set at the bedside of those who are dying. I'm sure I do not understand them all. I will say that these musings are from a strictly Protestant Christian perspective, so if that's not you, then there may be similarities but there will be many differences as well.
I, like most mortals it seems, am curious about what happens after we depart the existence we know in this world. There are many ideas of what happens, some are mentioned in the Bible. There are descriptions of heaven complete with the pearly gates and streets of gold, where there are no tears and we will have different bodies. We have understandings based solely on family folklore, such as there is fishing in heaven. You might wonder what theological premise do I base this on? Well, the theological understanding in which we are talking about Daddy finding a fishing hole and goin' fishing of course. There are beliefs held in agreement with others, such as there are angelic choirs that our loved ones who enjoy such things can join, and (in the case of a friend of mine and I) that there is a kitchen basement where we will surely spend eternity peeling potatoes.
The truth is, unless we have gone through the process, we don't know with any certainty what happens. I have been asked what it is like to die or what awaits us after we die and I answer honestly - I don't know. I haven't died yet. Now, many people may think that this is a flippant answer that isn't very pastoral, but in mothering my children, I have determined that an honest "I don't know" is worth a thousand words of supposition. And the principle carries over to congregations. I have not been through the process of dying myself, but I have been with people as they have died. I have studied the Scriptures that tell us of the life after the one we currently live. I have come to the conclusion that there are a few constants for Christians, but they still seem to be vague as to the exact process that happens at the moment of death, except when we are apart from the body we are present with the Lord, (2 Cor 5:8) and this seems to be true from my observation.
My father is on a journey right now. This is no surprise that I would use a journey metaphor, it applies to his entire life. My father's family was always on a journey and when he was on his own he journeyed a great deal also. He traveled from Texas to California in the depression. As a (almost) grown man he 'truck farmed' and traveled around selling produce from the back of a truck. He used to hitchhike across the country visiting relatives, and it was traveling by foot and hitchhiking from California back to Texas that he met my mother. They married and journeyed together moving from Texas to California, back to Texas, then to Oklahoma where they (mostly) settled down and raised a family. He is on a journey right now from this life to the next. From the community of faith, the body of Christ, the church on earth, to the church eternal. While my journey with my father is mostly as an observer, I am, as I always have, am a learner sitting at my father's feet. These are a few of the things my father is teaching me. I will post a few more lessons in the coming days.