Some time ago I shared thoughts with readers of the Adventist Review on the challenges of caregiving.1 My season of caring and giving that began in 2007 recently came to its end, complete with sad goodbyes. Yet, there are other powerful emotions I now experience as I think of the end my family has experienced—an end whose blessings we’re living with; and a final end we all look forward to!
60-Plus Years of Blessing
My life has been blessed with more than 60 years of marriage to an intellectual and spiritual pioneer of Seventh-day Adventism, credited with establishing graduate theological preparation in Adventist education on multiple continents. Those years together included a decade and a half for me as the privileged caregiver to that wonderful man. As I saw him wane, I longed so much for him to have a visit or two from some of his old friends, just to share a few minutes with him and take him out for a ride. But things have moved on now.
Friday, March 6, I received an early morning call from the memory care facility where Werner was, telling me that he was very sick and was being taken to the hospital. By mid-morning of that same day, the doctor showed me an X-ray that indicated he was fighting double pneumonia. His farewell seemed imminent. I texted my children—one in Chicago and one in Beirut: “Daddy has serious double pneumonia. Will keep you posted.”
I was able to spend hours with my dear husband, realizing all the time that there might not be many left. After a couple days one of his former students came to perform a simple anointing service, recognizing the finality of things. That was followed by a season in hospice at the facility where he had been. What a blessing that he did not need to cope with a new environment. Back there, though, he stopped eating and drinking—anything but applesauce and thickened fruit juice that I spoon-fed him.
A Farewell Service
It was evident that the end was coming soon. The family arrived as soon as they could. We were allowed short visits by twos. I read the Bible to Werner, prayed with him as he prayed too—although I could hardly understand his garbled speech.
We had a funeral service already planned. It would be held in the Loma Linda University church—organist reserved, video messages from friends prepared, and the homily to be delivered by Pastor Randy Roberts, whose wife had gone to elementary school in Argentina with my children.
Then, even as Werner kept losing ground, COVID-19 appeared. All services in the church were canceled. Sabbath morning, March 21, Werner lost consciousness.
We got word at noon that the mortuary had been called. How could we have a funeral service? Certainly not in the church! We called Pastor Randy and confirmed with him that a 4:00 p.m. gathering at our house was possible.
Only 10 people were allowed. They would be immediate family and Pastor Randy—10 people there to celebrate Werner’s life and the marvelous hope of eternity with Jesus.
Despite COVID-19’s disruption we were able to include all the features we had planned, except the organ. So with Shawna at the piano, we sang “We Have This Hope” and “Más Allá Del Sol.” We listened to Werner’s biography. We watched and heard video tributes. Pastor Roberts preached his eulogy—from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—emphasizing three words of Paul: “Grief”but not without “hope,” and all the time with the “comfort”of God’s promises. Then we went outside for a family picture.
What did we miss? Yes, the company of all our friends at a reception—as well as the trouble of preparing the food in a hurry.
Yes, there was grieving! How could that be avoided? The next day, however, after Heidi and family had departed for the airport, I began listening to the news. COVID-19 was beginning to take its toll. Everything had closed down! I saw that I could count several more blessings, even with loss and a sad end.
Had Werner survived into pandemic days I would not have been able to visit him. I’d just have to say hello through the window. Also, as time went by, I realized how blessed I was to have him resting. Moreover, because of the pandemic, my son, Ron, and his wife could not return to their job overseas in Beirut, Lebanon. I could enjoy their company for almost three months. What a handful of blessings for a time of endings, sadness, and loss.
And then there’s the thrill of the blessed hope! We will see Werner again. No doubt in our minds. And what an end that will be! For “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds. to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17, NKJV).2
I dare to say that Werner’s life has closed with a beautiful end, an end that promises that we shall see him again. Meanwhile, we rejoice in the magnificent hope of eternal life with our God.
Family Picture: The Vyhmeister family [Courtesy of Nancy Vyhmeister]