Keeping Vigil

Keeping Vigil            

The most powerful truths about being a Christian do and always have involved life and light.  The biggest challenges to our Christian faith are and always have been death and darkness.  Since the fall in Eden, these opposites can always be found in the same moments; it simply depends on where you turn your attention.  No moments present the contrast as much as those moments spent in keeping vigil for a loved one who is dying.  That’s what some members of my family have endured this week as a niece lost her years-long battle with cancer.

There are no easy vigils; they all start at difficult and increase in weight depending on the circumstances of the moment.  In my niece’s case, she was only in her fifties, married, children and grandchildren, loved and loving.  Immediate reactions are too young, too needed, too deserving of more time to love more, be loved more and to enjoy life more.  Even though all of those are true, none of those could change the realities that none of them will be realized for her here in this life.    

Keeping vigil brings the hardest and the most beautiful truths to the surface.  We have a God who does not abandon us: His promise is that He will be with us always, even until the end of the age.  In faith we have come to understand that He is always with us.  We believe that he is so close that he actually dwells within us.  Yet, that also means that each of us has to take His hand and take every step of our particular journey.  He showed us in the cross and the empty tomb that there is no short cut; the path to eternal life requires that we step through death. 

My mother and one of my sisters also died from cancer.  The illness is a difficult burden.  The attempted treatment(s) are difficult burdens.  In both of their cases, when it was apparent that no cure was going to happen, the one thing left to those who love them is the prayer that the suffering will be lessened in intensity and duration.  Yet, in both of their cases, it amazed me that although there seemed to be little of any strength left in their bodies, they both fought unbelievably hard, even heroically until that final breath.  I think they witnessed to us the beauty and value of life is not to be surrendered cheaply.  Life is precious, even when the breaths come so hard.  Isn’t everlasting life, then even more precious? 

There was no vigil for my father.  He died suddenly and alone.  That, no doubt, was easier on him physically.  But it was a challenge for me in the starkness and immediacy of it all.  Even though neither my mother or sister were capable of conversation in those last hours, there was still the opportunity for me to assure them of my love, to hold their hand, and to kiss their cheek, and to wipe their brow. 

The vigil is one place no one wants be.  There is a deep primal part go of you that wants to get up, leave, and close the door tight behind you and just walk as fast and as far in the opposite direction as possible.  Stronger still, is the need to stay and be present.  No doubt, this is how Mary felt at the foot of the cross.  So, while my niece and her immediate family had much to endure, time together, especially when it is obvious that moments cannot be held back, and that there there is only time and only space for love, is a gift.

This vigil is over.  Now is the time for faith in the sure and certain hope that this loved one is now safely home and fully alive in the enduring life and perfect love of God.  “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.  Amen.” 

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan  


Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash