As a pastor, I have been around death more than the average person. The experience can vary considerably, but it is never pretty. Our physical death is part of the wages of sin. Theoretically, it is something that should never happen, but because of sin it is something that always happens.
Our bodies are geared up to fight in order to continue living. Consequently, we often struggle those last few hours. For many it is most visible in belabored breathing. I would hate to drown, so struggling to breath is not something I covet. My mother had a dying process that took several days. I was there for the last three. In the midst of this process, she awoke from a semi-comatose state and said, “I haven’t done anything wrong.” I asked what she meant. She was confused as to why death took so long. She thought maybe she was being punished.
Fear of the process is not the only thing. In fact, the process is a minor thing. Morphine can get you through that. Fear of what is next is the major thing. Everyone has some angst over the unknown. We only die once so we can’t claim direct experience. That is where the promises of God and the description of eternal life come in. A strong faith can make you fearless. God is trustworthy and Jesus is the cause of our salvation, so we can simply let go without fear that we need to do something. That kind of faith takes some time to develop, however. Most people are a little scared, and that is OK. Saving faith is not the same thing as absolute, fearless confidence. Saving faith is a connection that God alone can make between you and Jesus. It is spiritual, not intellectual or emotional. Saving faith can produce an intellectual trust that makes you strong through the process of death. It is a great witness and a source of joy, but not a prerequisite to being saved.
If you have somebody who is dying and they are a baptized child of God and still they are afraid of death, talk to them about Heaven, remind them about Jesus, and assure them that not only will Jesus see them through the process of death, so will you. I talk about Heaven the same way I would talk about a pending vacation of a lifetime. It’s exciting. It is–like no other experience. There comes a time to stop talking about recovery and to stop holding on to this life. Let a person know that things will be fine for the survivors. Give them permission to leave. And get them exciting about where they are going.
I’ve seen some of my own parishioners go from “wide-eyed scared” to at peace and happy. They should be. Thanks to Jesus we all can be.