My Niece’s Final Words from Her Death Bed Taught Me All I Need to Know About Religion
It was the truth I’d been looking for all my life
We didn’t anticipate her dying so quickly.
The last I’d heard, she had the cancer under control. Regular treatments and alternative therapies had kept her strong and active. The phone call from her daughter telling me my niece was suddenly bedridden and struggling to breathe came as a surprise.
Not that I didn’t anticipate the call — just not this soon, not this fast.
She’d struggled with breast cancer for two years. Just like her mother. But unlike her mother, who had died at 37, Tammy was sixty.
Yes, there had been earlier indications — the genetic assessment was conclusive: You will contract breast cancer. And yes, it will probably kill you.
The big question was when.
How much life was left for Tammy? And more importantly, how would she choose to live it?
She’d been raised in a strict, bible-based church called The Church of Christ. With its teachings based on a more literal interpretation of the Bible, she had a difficult time finding her place within the congregation. After all, she’d gotten pregnant at sixteen, married at seventeen, and divorced at twenty. Not exactly the ideal example of a young woman trying to follow the scriptures.
Tired of the finger-pointing and endless judgments, Tammy left the Church in her early twenties.
But she didn’t give up on God.
She’d spent too many hours sitting through Sunday services. She’d listened to the lessons and understood the message. As a youngster, she’d attended vacation bible school every summer. In addition, there were regular Sunday school and Wednesday night bible classes — an accepted part of the family’s weekly church attendance.
I tell you this because Tammy knew the Bible. She immediately recognized a convoluted or manipulated version of the scriptures — especially when used to rationalize an agenda that had nothing to do with getting to heaven.
So she looked for an alternative. She tried to find meaning in scripture-driven Protestant churches. She taught Sunday school. She hosted visiting preachers and ministers. She took food and read the Bible to sick and bereaved church members.
Yet, she never seemed to fit in.
She was a single mom with two kids of her own and four foster children. She didn’t have time to debate the possibility that a particular biblical passage originally written in Greek might mean something different in Aramaic. But she continued to attend services. Because it brought her closer to God, she’d said.
For her, going to church was an opportunity to check in, to be counted, to say, “Hey God, it’s Tammy. It’s been a tough week, but I got through it, and I want you to know that I still believe . . . and I’m counting on You.”
On the day she died, she didn’t give any catastrophic indication she’d exhausted her stamina or that her body had reached its limits of endurance. She was consuming the usual amount of oxygen, and although she’d continued to take pain medication, she didn’t feel the need to increase the dosage or frequency.
In other words, there was no reason for any of us to think the day would be any different.
Her phone call was a surprise.
I usually called her.
Tammy’s voice was strong. Her mind was lucid and calm. We talked for about ten minutes — about her kids, her brother, her deceased mom and dad, and how much she’d been thinking about them over the last few days.
I let her talk. Just like I always did. Whatever the subject, it was her choice. Her time. The least I could do was listen.
But toward the end of the call, the conversation changed.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I spent all that time in church, and I’m supposed to know how this is going to end. I’m supposed to be at peace, looking forward to crossing over. But I don’t feel that way. More than anything, I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of pushing myself.”
She paused for a few seconds, then added, “I’m going to hang up now.”
“I understand,” I said. “Get some rest. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
“Yes,” I answered. “I’m still here.”
And then she said it . . . the last words she would ever speak. “I hope I see you again.”
My response was automatic: “I hope so too.”
As I waited for her to hang up, I heard the conversation in the background. “Mom? Can you hear me?”
A few seconds later, Tammy’s daughter came on the line. “She’s gone,” she said. “She just handed me the phone, laid back on the pillow, and closed her eyes.”
Moments later, the heart monitor confirmed it.
“I hope I see you again.”
That’s what Tammy left me — her life’s legacy in six words.
For me, it’s a personal wish that pretty much sums it up for all of us. In so many ways, it reflects the purpose and intention to seek a connection with God. Because without it, our death comes and goes like clockwork, resigning us to becoming a vague memory for a couple generations, and then we’re forgotten.
It’s a depressing epitaph if that’s all there is to life and death.
Personally, I want more than eighty years of struggle followed by an empty death. I want to believe the others that have gone before, and those who will soon follow, have gone to a place where we can be reunited — so we can see each other again.
For me, it’s a reward more valuable than the promise of walking streets of gold, receiving a crown of everlasting life, or never again experiencing the hardships of cruelty, disease, and death.
It’s faith . . . based on a specific objective that everyone can understand.
The hope of seeing each other again goes beyond arguing which Bible translation is more accurate. It goes beyond the petty judgments that sanctimonious church members make about the behavior of others.
And it’s far more important than quarreling over the scriptural authority of instrumental music during worship services, same-sex marriage, or whether the church pews should be padded (all issues that caused congregations to split apart.)
Here’s the Takeaway . . .
For those spiritual leaders wanting to increase attendance at Sunday morning services, put this on the message board out front:
“We meet here on Sundays in the hope of seeing each other again.”
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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