Stroking Miss Betty’s hair, I talked to her gently, but there was no response. Her cheeks were sunken in, her eyes were closed, her breathing was shallow. She’d been in a comatose state for the past several days, and had lost so much weight that she was barely recognizable. Miss Betty, the mother of our close family friend Gary, was in the last stages of terminal cancer.
With worship music playing softly in the background, I squeezed Miss Betty’s hand and whispered, “You’re so close to heaven. You’re going to see Jesus soon. It’s OK, you can go now.” As I kissed her forehead, I was instantly reminded of my maternal grandmother, who had pancreatic cancer at age 83.
My spunky Italian grandma lived next door to us for the last several years of her life, and we saw her almost every day. We would laugh over her stories from her teenage years as we made her famous “meatless meatballs” in her tiny kitchen, or battled to outsmart the squirrels who tried to steal her birdseed. Grandma jumped rope every day, grinning when I couldn’t keep up with her fast skipping that she called “hot peppers.” She swore by the healing properties of herbal teas and wheat germ in her oatmeal to keep her “fit as a fiddle.”
When the cancer started advancing, I could hardly bear to see Grandma, who had always been so healthy, deteriorating physically. At the end, my family and I would sit by her bed and sing hymns or read the Bible aloud. She was longing to be with Jesus, and we didn’t want to see her go, yet we didn’t want to see her suffer. We knew we had to release her.
I’ll never forget the amazing presence of the Lord in that room the last few hours Grandma was on this earth. Once she opened her eyes and asked, “Heaven?” so hopefully that we had to say, “No, Grandma, not yet. But you’re almost there!” She talked of seeing angels, and kept saying, “It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful.” Finally, through tears, we cheered her on as she crossed over the Jordan, knowing that we were witnessing something powerful and precious.
This morning I got a phone call with the news that Miss Betty had gone to see Jesus. At 5:00am on July 21st, her spirit finally left her body and went to her real, eternal Home. Though it’s painful for us to say goodbye on this side, I had to smile to imagine the reception these two godly women – my Grandma and Miss Betty – had received on the other side, with the “great cloud of witnesses” applauding for them as they ran into the welcoming arms of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15, NIV).