My dad died in August 1989. He had cancer of the bladder that metastasized to his lungs, kidneys, and finally the brain. In July, he had a seizure, and while his body kept functioning, my dad was gone. I came home while he was still in the hospital. I was sitting with Dad, giving Mom a break, when the fog in his brain lifted. He began speaking clearly and using familiar hand gestures and expressions. It was so good to see him. He started to make me a diagram on the tablet I was writing on. About thirty seconds into what he was explaining his writing and his speech began to slur and he was back in the fog.
In August we received a call from Mom. The hospice nurse had told her to gather the family. They didn’t know if he would make it through the day. It was the quickest trip from Kansas City to Columbus we ever made. That was Friday. Dad lingered until Wednesday. Each of us had our time by his bedside. We all said lots of things, but I don’t know what he heard. More than anything I said, what I wanted was just to hear him say he loved me, one more time.
Last words. They hold such power and weight. Jesus knew that. As he was coming to the end of his time, he gathered the disciples close and gave them his undivided attention and teaching. As I thought through those lessons I’m thankful that Jesus last words to Peter weren’t about his betrayal, but an instruction to feed Jesus’ sheep.
Last words. Here’s the problem with them. Jesus knew when he was going to die. He had the opportunity to plan out those final meetings with the people who matter the most to him. That’s an advantage not too many of the rest of us have. Most of us have no clue what could happen in a day. This was driven home to me a couple weeks ago when the husband of one of our Curves members had a colonoscopy done and two weeks later he was gone.
So here’s the challenge for us. We have to learn to live as if all our words were our last words. As if all our lessons to our children were the last lessons we were going to give. Would it make a difference? Hopefully, there would be more love and grace. When asked if he knew he only had a short time to live if he would change anything, John Wesley replied that he would not, implying he was already living with a sense of the importance of each moment. Are we there yet? I know I’ve got room for improvement.
Recently, I read Ken Gire’s book, “Reflective Living.” In one chapter he discusses the Shema. He describes how important that was to the Jewish believer. It would be the first thing they said every morning and the last thing said every night. It is also the last thing they were to say as they died. If we could get a hold of this in our lives, perhaps it would truly help us to make sure we said everything we were supposed to say while we were living. “5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5, NIV).”
Living all out like that will make Jesus’ last words more real to us and help our words, first and last, count more now and in the end.