Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. – Hebrews 9:27
Back in 1983 Ruth and I were still quite young, we had no children, and we had just moved to Lancaster County. I was working as a real estate agent with Century 21 and Ruth was working at Park City Mall at a women's clothing store. Late one Wednesday night I received a phone call from my dad telling me that Mom had been taken to the hospital, had there collapsed on the floor and had been immediately rushed into surgery. Dad sounded very concerned and said, "Pray!" A few hours later he called back with the very brief and tearful message: "Your mother's dead. Come soon." And so it was that both Ruth and I flew the next day to St. Louis where we were picked up at the airport by a member of the church that Dad pastored in nearby Highland, Illinois.
The following day I borrowed one of my Dad's cars and drove to the airport to pick up my grandparents who had just flown in from Phoenix, Arizona. As I met them, walked with them and helped them with their luggage they both seemed quite unaffected by this very sudden and unexpected death of their daughter-in-law. It was then that my grandfather said something I will never forget. He said, "When you have reached our age (he would have been 82 at the time) you have seen pretty much everyone die." What he meant by that – and I understood it – was that by that point in their lives, death was no longer a shock, regardless of who died or even the manner in which they died. My grandparents had grown numb to death.
Last Sunday a childhood friend of mine name Joel Wilson died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 67. I can still recall, as children, the time when he came over and we played "army forts" in the basement. After building the forts we turned off the lights and soon Joel could be heard crying. He was probably 10 years old, but still he was afraid of the dark. Joel was really smart. When we did Bible quizzing at church, Joel was always the one to be on top…to win. He had an excellent memory for Bible trivia.
So Joel's now dead, and my roommate from Moody (Bryce Jackson) is dead, and one of my roommates from seminary (Lem Tucker) is dead. My four grandparents are all dead; my mom is dead; a bunch of former elders are dead; Ruth's parents are dead; Keith Swarr is dead; most of my professors are all dead; my first employer (Leonard Elliott) is dead; dead…dead…dead. I'm not 82 so I'm not yet "numb to death" as were my grandparents at the time of my mother's dead, but I'm beginning to understand. There is a reality check taking place. This world truly is just a stepping stone, a brief stop along the way towards eternity.
Yes, just a brief stop along the way.