How to die like a Christian

My father slipped into eternity on Christmas Eve 2014. He had always been a powerful influence on my life. He showed me how to be a Christian, a man, and a pastor. He always expended a great deal of energy to keep track of people, remember their names, remember their children’s and parents’ names—always showing interest in their lives. He had the gift of making other people feel important. He was a terrific speaker, both in the pulpit and classroom. He had a phenomenal work ethic—up early, at it all day, and then started drooping by 9:30 P.M. He was an intense Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, and yet his writing always had simplicity and clarity. He loved his church and his Lord with a simplicity of heart that was infectious. He planted almost as many trees as Johnny Appleseed. Like many children of the Depression, he knew how to live small, make do, reuse, repair, and repurpose. He was always a generous giver to ministries that he believed in.

I would think of those things in his last year of life, a year in which I had thought at first that he wasn’t the man I knew and admired for so long. Age and physical and mental wear began to rob him of his balance. He began to fall a lot. This fiercely independent man more and more needed other people to help him survive. It is only now, with the passage of several years, that I realize that he was still mentoring me, even in his frailty. He was teaching me how to die like a Christian.

He had to yield his car keys. He had to ask other people to do the chores he always did. He had to suffer the thousand bathroom indignities of people near the end. To appear in public he needed to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. All those things are the common lot of people who don’t die suddenly. But here are the things I have come to admire:

  • I never heard a word of self-pity.
  • He must have suffered discomfort and pain, but I never heard him complain.
  • He accepted the embarrassing help for personal functions gracefully.
  • At family functions he was glad for conversation and attention but sat quietly when the focus moved elsewhere.
  • Even in his wheelchair he kept his regimen of daily Bible and devotional reading.
  • He was always happy to see people and would beam his 500-watt smile.

Thank you, Dad. See you soon.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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