Skip to main content

I am sitting on our living room couch, looking up at a patch of blue sky through a rectangle of skylight glass. A determined breeze sends the dead leaves of autumn somersaulting over its dome. Jack Armentrout installed it soon after we moved in many years ago. Jack was handy with tools and had a knack for finish carpentry. The skylight remains watertight, but the openings on either end of the long ceiling-to-roof bay do not quite line up. For once Jack’s experienced eye had failed him. But only a little. It’s a barely perceptible asymmetry, a slight distortion.

As I write this, Jack is dying in the hospice wing on the third floor of a nursing home in town. His body, like his skylight, no longer lines up either. Age has distorted his torso, and disease has warped his organs. He has only days to live. Maybe only hours. He knows that Jennie, his dead wife, reposes in a coffin at a funeral home down the road. I have just gotten back from there, from paying my respects to the grieving daughters. Jack is too far gone, too frail to join them, to greet the chattering mourners, to receive their murmured condolences. Tomorrow is the funeral. He will miss that, too.

Jack is lying immobile in a low recliner. His carpenter hands lie in limp repose on his robed lap. Tubed oxygen flows into his nose. His face is puffy, a mask no longer able to show emotion. I move where he can see me. He greets me by name. I kneel by his side, face to face, the living and the dying on a level playing field. He looks at me with old man’s eyes overflowing with tears, the grimace of a smile on his dusky lips. We take turns mumbling words—mine of sorrow and comfort, his of impending death. He says that he, too, could go at any time now, what with his kidneys having failed him and all. I tell him I learned that, before she died, Jennie had been brought up to his room, and they had been together for a few days. He nods and looks away, as if trying to recall those bittersweet moments. 

I place my folded hands on his limp and swollen ones, hands that had once gripped a hammer, fitted and sealed a skylight on a slightly distorted bay. I do what one does when death stalks a child of God. I pray to a Father whose Son, too, had once died. But that death was short-lived. And the risen One would soon welcome Jack to be with him too. Jack and Jeannie together again. What that would be like neither Jack nor I have much of an idea. I end my prayer and say goodbye. As I walk back to the car, I feel that I have just been nearer to heaven than I’ve ever been before—closer to the mystery of that which lay beyond death, of which no one knows very much at all. Having talked to a dying man moments away from crossing that inscrutable threshold, I am moved to tears. I have not seen the Lamb on his throne, but I have conversed with someone who was about to see for himself.

The mystery remains, but the feeble comfort I had offered Jack gave me comfort and assurance that all will be well—with Jeannie, with Jack, with me.


We Are Counting on You

The Banner is more than a magazine; it’s a ministry that impacts lives and connects us all. Your gift helps provide this important denominational gathering space for every person and family in the CRC.

Give Now