We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu
My friend Bob was accustomed to calling the hospice center and saying, “I am about to die, come quick.” He knew I cared about him very much and would do anything I could for him, so it was his practice to say that if I ever hoped to see him again, I had better come right away.
Bob had a wonderful sense of humor and often asked me out for dinner for the “early bird burned-chicken special.” He had more money than most, which made it all the funnier when I refused, telling him it was not good for my digestion. Bob had cared for a severely brain-damaged daughter for many, many years and with all his humor and silliness, he was a brilliant man and the most deeply committed and loving father I had ever seen.
He left a message for me late one afternoon saying, one more time, that if I ever wanted to see him again, I had better come now. I had worked a very long day and was really tired, so I decided to call the next morning and did not go to see him. He died that night and I was so sorry I had not stopped by to visit one last time.
I called Annie, my friend of 40 years, when I heard she was being moved into a long-term care facility. She was devastated at leaving her beloved home where she and her husband had raised their family. I had the feeling she no longer wanted to live but rather to go on to the God she knew and loved.
“When will you come to see me?” she asked pleadingly. “In the next few weeks,” I promised. “As soon as you are settled in, I will be there.” It was not soon enough, and my lovely friend died within a day or two without our final visit.
“Darlin’,” my sweet southern friend of 45 years said. “Are you coming to see me soon?” Marie had been sick on and off for many years and I talked about our wonderful friendship in my book More Glimpses of Heaven. I told her I would be up in the next week or so, as my daughter-in-law was having surgery and she lived nearby. Marie died less than a week later, before our promised visit.
Something happens to our hearts when we do not get to see our loved ones in time, as promised. Somehow we feel guilty for having let them down and that can bring us great sorrow if we are not careful. After the deaths of each of these friends, I had to remind myself of what I had told the families of loved ones in my care when they too did not make it to the bedside “in time.”
Somehow, in a way that only God knows about, everyone you have ever loved and everyone who has ever loved you is with you when you die. An awareness of love is with that person as they die, even when we are not physically present for them. God is with them—and so is everyone he brings to their remembrance. After all, they are on their way to Heaven, to their eternal and lasting reward, where love is eternal. Where love is, that’s where God abides.