By Johnnie C. Godwin
Contributing columnist, B&R
Editor’s note: The following column is Part I of a two-part series. Although Part I is the joint effort of Allan Legard and Johnnie Godwin, it is mostly Godwin’s writing. In Part II, Legard will identify 10 essential next steps when a loved one dies.
Ideally, all loved ones would die like Abraham; and families would celebrate their lives despite the grief of the parting. Abraham lived to be 175 years old. Then, the Bible says, “He took his last breath and died at a good old age, old and contented, he was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:7-8, CSB).
But in reality, circumstances vary so much that many of us hardly know what to do first and following the death of a loved one. That is true in times of pandemic but also for families in all eras of life.
Friend Allan LeGard and I put our hearts and experience together for this column to suggest what we hope will be helpful to you when a loved one dies.
What we write is just the tip of the iceberg, but there is voluminous literature on dealing with death, grief, and next steps after loved ones die.
Still, we may be helpful with a few suggestions for the living before they die and for family when death comes.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for all men once to die, and after that the certain judgment” (Amp. Bible). Death comes in all sorts of times and places. As a rule, we don’t control death’s arrival, but it is certain. That behooves the living to prepare and plan for death, including funeral arrangements and how their property will be dispersed.
Together, Allan and I have nearly 100 years of experience trying to help and minister to families when death has come to a loved one. Allan is an active Christian layman and minister in my church, but his professional role and title — apart from our church — is advanced planning specialist. Phyllis and I chose him to help us plan for final wishes and arrangements years ago, besides our legal will.
Then I asked him to join me in giving some suggestions to help when a loved one dies. I’ve been a minister for 70 years, and I’ve done funerals for every circumstance you can think of.
Suppose a loved one dies — what then?
Since circumstances vary so much in a pandemic and other times, there is no one plan to fit all.
Whatever planning the deceased loved one has done, the living are now responsible for next steps. That’s despite shock, grief, separation, and all else.
Depending on whether a person’s death is what we call “a blessing” or it’s sudden and a shock, next of kin or family members or friends have to share the fact of death with others. Certainty? Death may or may not be certain when a person falls and seems to be dead. A person’s death must be legally certified. Depending on the circumstances, you may call 911 and get immediate help with EMS services or an ambulance and hospital, or others to examine and certify death.
Everyone needs help when a loved one dies — even if hospice or a long-term care facility is overseeing the one who died. In my own family’s experience, we contacted each other and arranged for a responsible family member to help make decisions about next steps, including calling the pastor, working with a funeral home and trying to plan a memorial service like the deceased said they desired.
But one was cremated. In my lifetime, more and more people have chosen cremation for themselves, regardless of what others have thought about that.
Phyllis and I made that choice years ago and worked with Allan to plan it and pay for it ahead of time. We shared in writing our wishes with family members, so they wouldn’t have to decide next steps.
Cremation? Well, some die and their bodies are vaporized as in 9/11. Others are lost in war or ways that do not preserve the physical body. Others simply choose cremation for one reason or another.
Whatever the form of burial or otherwise, God never loses or leaves the saved. When the time of resurrection comes, each saved person will be changed in the twinkling of an eye; and we will be raised with an incorruptible body (I Corinthians 15:52). Bible students differ on the nature of the resurrection body, but all agree that the resurrection body is eternal, recognizable, and perfect.
The fact of an eternal resurrection body is true for all Christians! We read in II Corinthians, “We know that if the tent which is our earthly home is destroyed (dissolved), we have from God a building, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” [Amp. Bible].
Actually, all of II Corinthians 4-5 spells this fact out. The eternal body God provides will far surpass our earthly bodies at any stage of existence.
Choosing and planning a memorial service
Often these days, one or more pastors lead the memorial service. But also, there may be family members and friends you choose to lead.
Either way, it is essential that the gospel message — and the need for each person to choose God in Christ as Lord and Savior — to be presented. We’re talking about a Christian service!
In my experience, family members or others have wanted me to lead a funeral in a way that makes a saint out of the deceased, whether his life’s behavior was Christian or pagan.
Well, only God can make a saint — a saved one who became holy. While we don’t want to speak ill of the dead, we do need to identify the best in a person.
And we need to note that not everyone will go to heaven. God is judge, but salvation is essential! B&R — Copyright 2021 by Johnnie C. Godwin and Allan Legard