From 1984 to 1998, I worked closely with patients, family members and their health care providers at Methodist Healthcare in Memphis. For most of those years, I wrote the stories of some of the people I met in those patient rooms and critical care waiting rooms. The following is taken from a story published in 1989 and the name of the husband has been changed.
Mr. Markle, the husband of a patient who died in our hospital two months ago, came to see me last week. He stopped by to let me know how he and his family were doing after the death of his wife. A very close family, they stayed near wife, mother and grandmother for those weeks before her death.
Mr. Markle said his wife told him the morning he brought her to the hospital that she would die there and she was ready to go. She had battled illness for 15 years.
Those weeks in the hospital the family would gather daily to share a devotional reading. The morning she died, the devotional was on death and the willingness to peacefully give to God sick and hurting loved ones. One of the daughters remarked how significant the devotional was for that day.
Mr. Markle said the very hardest thing for him during his wife’s illness was a conversation he had with his five-year old granddaughter. With tears in his eyes, he told me this story:
“Papa, I love you and I love Grandma. And I love God most of all. Isn’t that right, Papa, to love God most of all?” “Yes, honey, it is.” “I know God doesn’t want Grandma to be sick and He will do what’s best for her.”
That little girl’s words paved the way for another tough conversation just days later when Mr. Markle decided to tell his two young granddaughters (the other was eight) about their grandmother’s imminent death. He took the girls into one of our chapels and placed them on either side of him, then asked the youngest if she remembered what she had said about God doing what was best for their grandmother. She did. He told them that he thought God was going to take Grandma to be with Him so she wouldn’t have to be sick anymore. They nodded their heads and bravely accepted his words.
What Mr. Markle did for those little girls was a courageous gift. By telling them what the rest of the family knew, he showed respect for their need to know. That kept the little girls from feeling isolated and afraid, as often happens with children when loved ones die.
I was with the family the morning Mrs. Markle died—they called for me to come. What a privilege it was to be with them as they said their goodbyes. Though they were sad, there was a very strong sense of peace about each one. I saw, and the nursing staff saw, their powerful witness of faith. But most of all, two little girls witnessed their parents and grandfather’s way of dealing with death, and they understood that Grandma going home to God wasn’t the end, just a temporary separation.