I've heard this said many times over the years, but there are two sides to that simple statement. As I continue my journey through this place called "Grief", I slowly begin to understand those two sides.
First, that death truly is a mystery to me, even being soundly rooted in my faith in God. For it involves things unseen and unknown to my mortal mind that I can't even begin to comprehend.
Secondly, one day all of the mystery will be made known, as I pass from this lifetime into the eternal one. But not one day sooner.
Standing in awe of that fact, I recall the many days and nights I watched my mother as she went through the dying process with cancer. It was a long and difficult journey for her. It's odd, the things I can now recall.
As her health faded and dying began to take it's place, I spent many hours at her bedside, just watching and listening. It was as if she had one foot planted in this world, and one foot in the "other". She wouldn't discuss the things she could see, almost as if it were a special secret. But her facial expressions told the tale of a great mystery.
One morning, she opened her eyes and seemed startled, then surprised, as if someone she had known long ago had suddenly paid her a surprise visit. As I watched quietly, she went from initial shock to a broad, beaming smile as she acknowledged her "visitor". She quickly nodded her head as if in answer to a question and smiled again. I saw pure peace radiating from her face, and will never forget the sparkles in her beautiful blue eyes. What joy radiated from her face!
Why I didn't ask her at the time who or what she was seeing, I don't know. At the time, it didn't feel right to intrude on what felt like such an awesome occasion.
She had many "visitors" over the next few days as I quietly observed. Once, after watching her stare at the corner of the room for such a long time, I asked her what she was staring at. The television was placed just below the ceiling in the corner and it appeared as if she was staring at it, except it was turned off.
She said, "I'm staring at the top of the TV." Then she smiled, that beautiful smile, again.
I finally asked, "Why are you staring at the TOP?"
She said simply, "Because I can't see the bottom." She grinned in the direction of the TV as if some unseen "friend" were standing between her and it. I've wondered about this so often. It would explain to me why she could only see the top. Could it be that an unseen visitor was standing in the way? It was my mystery, and her secret.
She often reached out to her "visitor". Was she trying to beckon him forward, or needing his touch to prove he was real? Whether you and I believe she was truly visited by someone from "beyond", or that she was merely hallucinating, isn't important. SHE believed he was there. I saw it on her face.
Many years ago when my grandfather died, I watched him go through a similar experience, but with one additional detail. His visitor had a name. He called her "Margaret". Although he carried on many conversations with Margaret, they were hushed and muttered so softly that my mortal ears couldn't understand most of his words. He believed she heard him, though, as he carried on what appeared to be a two-sided conversation with her. Was it supposed to be a secret from earthly ears? Is that why he spoke so softly?
Only occasionally could I hear enough of his conversation to be able to determine that "Margaret" was his sister. She had died many years earlier.
As we pass from this life, shedding our mortal remains, are we afraid? Does God allow those who have gone on before us the privilege of returning long enough to help comfort us through this passage? Do angels come to us to minister to us during this process? Or do we simply hallucinate as our dreams become waking reality? It will always be a mystery to us until the day we can see it through the eyes of death.
I watched my mother slowly begin to spend more time on the other side and less time here with me. When I would pry about what she was thinking or what she was seeing, she would simply close her eyes. It wasn't something she felt she could share with me. Maybe it was too personal, or maybe she wasn't allowed to say, or maybe she just knew I wouldn't be able to comprehend. Eventually she slipped into peaceful sleep and no longer responded to anything from this world.
I don't know why some people die so quickly, and others take such a long time. Just as I don't know why some people die so peacefully, and others in such wretched circumstances. Another great mystery. Mother clung to life for four more weeks before death finally took her from us. But during this time, her soul was at peace and even though the cancer ravaged her mortal body unto death, she slept peacefully beneath the cover of God's merciful grace.
"Letter From Heaven" was written describing her passage from this life into the next, and I wrote it as if it were from her viewpoint, not mine. Holding her hand as she took her last breath, I knew she was finally home. Her journey was now complete. Mine had only just begun.