No, Death is Not Beautiful

It was 4:00 in the morning. The phone call and recorded message jerked me awake. I shook Cliff.

“Your mom says your dad fell out of his chair and needs help getting back up.”

Cliff stumbled out of bed and sleepily put some clothes on. A few moments later he headed across the yard to his parents’ house with flashlight in hand.

Too awake now to fall asleep again immediately, I got up and sat on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Then I heard the sirens.

Hurrying to the window, I saw the lights flashing in my in-laws’ driveway. The first vehicle was joined by two more.

It seemed an eternity before I finally saw Cliff coming toward the house again. I met him at the back door…and knew the news was not good.

He was stooped as though having a difficult time breathing, heaving in deeply with tears pouring down his cheeks as raw, visceral emotion was released.

“I think he’s gone.”

We held one another and cried.

* * * * *

Our kids were blessed to live so near Papa they got to see him almost every day. They have some wonderful memories to treasure. Papa would bring Brianna home from work (Daddy sometimes takes her with him in the mornings) and he would always stop at Braums first to get her an ice cream cone. He taught her to play checkers. He sat with the kids this last 4th of July as they squeeled at the sight and sound of the fireworks. If they were involved in a play or presentation with the homeschool group, he was there.  Many times I would look out the window to be greeted by the sight of my son or daughter working alongside their papa in the yard or garden—hauling brush or sticks, cleaning up this or that, carrying firewood to the house.

Despite his failing health, Dad stayed active and industrious. I’ve never seen such a work ethic.  Rain or shine, good health or poor, Dad never let any excuse keep him from working hard and beiproductive. He instilled this strong work ethic and a sense of integrity in all four of his children. As his health failed he never complained about anything. But he had never been a complainer, simply
taking life as it came.

He was a man of few words, believing actions spoke louder. Accordingly, he was well-reputed for his generous support of Christian ministries and missions around the world. He usually had his Bible laid open on his desk where he had been reading it. He loved sitting in his chair, listening to great hymns of the faith, or preaching and teaching.

He had been listening to the preaching of J. Vernon McGee when he passed away.

* * * * *

At 6:30 that morning, our kids (aged 7 and 6) awoke. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would take the news. We sat down with them on the couch and broke it to them as gently as possible. I was surprised that they both took it without any show of emotion. I think they were in some shock and did not grasp the reality of it at the time. But later in the day Bri walked off by herself and cried. The next morning my sister-in-law saw Marcus sitting in a chair, staring at a picture of him and his grandpa together. When she asked him if he was okay he burst into tears, buried his face in the picture, and sobbed his heart out.

The funeral was delayed for a week because one of Cliff’s sisters and her husband were already scheduled to adopt a girl from an orphanage in Bulgaria. Just two days after they all arrived back in the States, we laid Dad’s body to rest. What made it poignantly painful and beautiful at once was to
observe the cycle of life: just as a family member left this world, another was added to the family, and yet another will soon enter (child #3 is due in just a few weeks!).

Death is not a beautiful thing. It’s wrong. Horribly wrong. In trying to come to terms with it the modern consciousness has tried to accept and embrace it as a “normal” and “beautiful” part of life.

But there is nothing inherently normal or good or beautiful about growing old and dying. In view of all life declared “good” in the Garden, it should not be. It is part of the curse that sinful man brought on himself. Death entered through the first Adam.

But the believer finds hope and reason to rejoice—even in death—because Life has come through the Second Adam.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…(…For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 6:12, 17-19

As believers, we sorrow when our loved ones pass on. But we don’t sorrow in the same way as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Christ has triumphed over death—it is described
as an enemy He will destroy at the last (1 Corinthians 15:26). Those who believe in Christ and trust Him for their righteousness have everlasting life. And when believers die they are simply shedding the shell of death which is under the curse and exchanging it for life.

In our morning devotions together the kids and I had just started into The Attributes of God for Kids about a week and a half before Dad passed away. The first one we read in the book is that God is unchanging, therefore we are secure. I had sent the kids out to bring back a piece of an evergreen tree and a leaf from a deciduous tree. We compared them and talked about how God is like the evergreen tree which never fades. We, however, are like the leaves that change and fade with the seasons.

Remembering our little lesson in the week before the funeral, I realized just how timely and appropriate it was. The two pieces of greenery were still sitting in the kitchen so I retrieved them and
sat down with the kids. We compared the two again: the needles from the evergreen looked about the same, but the leaf was curling up and dying. We talked about Papa. And about Jesus. How we change, fade, grow old, and die, but He is unchanging and eternal, and we can put our hope in Him for eternal
life.

Later Cliff talked with them about putting off this old “tabernacle” to be clothed with new life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4, 2 Peter 1:13-14). What we would see in the casket would not be Papa. Papa was with Jesus. He had left the body of death behind. It was a “tent” he didn’t live in or need anymore.

Brianna understood. She excitedly exclaimed, “Just like a bug sheds its ‘skin’!”

From the adjoining room where I overheard her I had to smile to myself at her analogy.

Yet, crude though it may be, it’s not a bad one.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:53-55, 57

No, death is not beautiful.

But the Life Who conquered it is! And Papa is rejoicing in Christ our Life now…