It is one of the most haunting regrets people can have. Being absent at the moment a loved one dies.
Let me share two important considerations here based on both my experience and also God’s truth. They will encourage you.
- I’ve seen many times that the dying, even when they seem to be mentally out of touch, are more in tune that we realize. By God’s design, combined with their own senses and desires, those who are dying often choose to take their last breath when a loved one is not present. Why? To provide a final, caring gesture and protect the loved one from the grim reality of death. It is offered as a gift. You may have received that gift, and if so, accept it as lovingly as it was given. Your loved one had the confidence of your love and your care. Be as confident of theirs for you.
- Let me say this gently but firmly. A dying loved one, if you weren’t there when they passed, probably didn’t need you there. Now, there are exceptions like tragic accidents or end-of-life trauma, when losing a loved one without some kind of preparation or final goodbye hurts deeply. But keep this mind. For Christians, it is never a final goodbye but a “see you later.” In heaven. There is only One your dying loved one needed to be present at the moment of their death, and it is not you. It is Jesus. He is their Savior, not you. He conquered death at his resurrection, not you. He is ever-present as the true God, not you. So it’s okay. Give yourself some grace (and truth) if you weren’t present when your loved one died. Jesus was.
Let me show you this in Scripture. In Mark 5, a man named Jairus comes to Jesus. His daughter is dying. He leaves her side to find the miracle worker, and he does. He begs Jesus to come to his house, but on the way messengers arrive and inform Jairus that his daughter has died.
Neither Jairus nor Jesus were physically there. But that didn’t make this man morally bad. He was seeking the best help possible. Sometimes that means leaving the side of your loved one to meet with a doctor, to make a phone call, even to grab some McDonald’s from the cafeteria.
What happened next to Jairus and his daughter, however, is the most important thing. Jesus still went to the house. Jesus still entered the room where the girl was lying—dead. And Jesus gave her life. He took her by the hand. He spoke some gentle but powerful words, saying that she was only asleep and when Jesus meets up with death, that’s all it really is. It doesn’t grope and grasp its victims as a curse. It doesn’t control eternal destiny. Because of Jesus.
“Don’t be afraid; just believe,” Jesus had told Jairus with calm confidence (Mark 5:36). That’s what your loved one needs from you more than anything. Believe in Jesus. Believe that he has been raised to life and that he offers eternal life to all who trust in him. While your loved one is still alive and alert, assure them of this. Pray together.
And when the moment comes, whether you are there or not, Jesus is their caring, kind, present, powerful and life-giving Savior.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, those who have been absent at the moment of a loved one’s death need your grace and truth, convincing them that they are loved and loving. But they are not you. They are not the Savior. Bless all the dying and their loved ones these days, and bring many to life in your name. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Read Mark 5:21-43, and notice how Jesus gives Jairus even more than he asked for—yet also asks Jairus for more than Jairus planned to give. Jesus still does this for us today.