A good friend just discovered her sister has terminal cancer. She’s devastated by the news but heartened by the fact that her sister has strong faith. They’re planning to “circle the wagons” at an old family retreat spot and encourage the ailing family member. And say goodbye.
The good news about terminal cancer-if there is any–is that you get the chance to close the door well on a relationship. You get to send your loved one off appropriately. I wrote the below blog years ago after I watched a wife prepare her husband for his death. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And appropriately, in the words of Jesus, I called it A Beautiful Thing. May it encourages you this Memorial Day Weekend
A Beautiful Thing
She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . . When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Matthew 26:10, 12
Today I attended a memorial service for a friend of mine. Over two hundred friends and family members filled a chapel and spent the better part of three hours celebrating this man’s life. It had in many ways all the ingredients of a great memorial service: anointed musicians led the congregation in worship and songs of heaven, many who knew this man stood and talked of good times and happy memories, long-time friends, some separated by miles and years, greeted each other warmly, laughter and tears surfaced often throughout the evening. It was an incredible memorial service.
There was, however, one unique creative touch: The man whose life we were there to honor sat with his family on the front row of the chapel, listening to all that was spoken. My friend, in the final stages of brain cancer at the time of this writing, will be in heaven soon. (He actually died October 3, 2003.) He has run his brief course incredibly well and has an immanent meeting date with Jesus. His strong and godly bride, perhaps taking a cue from Mary, decided to prepare her husband for burial before his death. She felt it inappropriate to make the friends and family of this Christ-follower wait until he was in heaven to share what he has meant to them all. A better course, to her way of thinking, was to say goodbye well, to leave nothing unsaid, to anoint her husband for his death. That she did, and my witnessing of it was one of the greatest experiences of my adult life.
People held my friend’s hand as they stood to speak about him and to him. Vocalists made eye contact with him as they sang of our heavenly home. His wife sat proudly by her husband’s side as one person after another stood to bless him for his life. My friend’s two young children were both present at the service. The youngest, a little boy, reclined in his Daddy’s lap and frequently reached up, armed with soft tissue, to wipe away his Daddy’s tears. Over and over again, speakers would close their comments by looking my friend square in the eye and saying, “I love you.” Nothing could have been more appropriate.
When Mary anointed Jesus just a few days before his death, that’s what she was saying. She was saying, “Jesus, I love you. I want you to hear me say it while you’re still here with me. I don’t want to attend your memorial and wish I’d told you while you were alive. Yes Jesus, I really, really love you.” I think Mary and my friend’s wife are on to something. “Goodbye” is for saying before you leave. “I love you” is for sharing while you can. Lives need to be celebrated before they’re over. I hope my friend’s wife has started a new cultural trend. I hope people will start facing death instead of fearing it, and start preparing for heaven instead of acting as if it doesn’t exist.
Jesus said that Mary would always be remembered for her act of love. He called it “a beautiful thing.” He indicated that it is good to anoint people for death before they die. Perhaps we need to take a cue from Mary—both the 1st Century and 21st Century versions—and start doing the same.