Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Watching the Clock
For weeks after my 39-year-old husband Ray died suddenly of a heart attack at work, I dreaded Saturdays. I replayed the events of the fateful day when Ray passed away, becoming progressively tenser as 6 pm, the time of the heart attack, approached. I imagined what he went through, how his associates tried to help him until the EMTs arrived, and the wailing of the ambulance’s siren as they rushed him to the hospital. All the while, my young daughters and I were shopping, ignorant of the fact our lives had changed forever.
When Mom passed away last year, no such replays plagued me on subsequent Fridays. Though images of her tiny bruise-covered body and pain-racked countenance haunted me for several weeks, her peaceful passing surrounded by those closest to her was more of a comfort to me. Whereas Ray’s sudden death sent me into a state of shock, I’d begun to grieve Mom’s decline months before her death, and knowing she was pain-free and in the presence of Jesus was a relief, even though I missed her terribly.
Thus, when April 30th, the first anniversary of Mom’s Homegoing, arrived, I was caught off-guard by the flood of memories that accompanied it, memories as clear as if the events had happened last week, not last year. As soon as I woke up, the heaviness hit, and the tears soon followed. The morning progressed, and I found myself watching the clock, tension building as the time of Mom’s final breath approached.
Last year’s sequence of events played out in my mind: I called her hospice nurse, who informed me Mom had rested well and was still dozing. The same nurse called an hour later, telling me Mom had taken a turn and we needed to come. Texts to my children and prayer warriors, a call to Dad. The tense drive. The hushed room where we gathered around our beloved to sing, pray, and whisper our goodbyes.
And then she was gone. Or was she?
A Great Cloud of Witnesses
Twenty-five years ago, when I met with my pastor to plan Ray’s funeral, I asked, “Do you think Ray can see us? Not to see how sad we are, but how much we love him.”
His answer, paraphrased after all these years, went something like, “Scripture isn’t clear regarding how much our loved ones see, but God is sovereign over all and can allow them to know things if He chooses.”
I’ve held onto his answer and have even prayed for God to allow Ray to know about certain events if it’s His will to do so: my daughters’ graduations, my return to school to study horticulture, the births of my grandchildren, and sometimes a simple, “Please tell Ray I love him, Lord.”
Ray loved me so well for the years he was with me that I still feel his love. And so it is with Mom’s. I know I’ll carry her love with me for the rest of my life.
In addition, there are times when I feel them very close to me. Such was the case in the days after I finished filming the video for Focus on the Family. I longed to share the experience with Mom and Ray, the wonder, the excitement, and the misgivings. I dreamt about Ray two nights in a row, dreams that were like sweet visits, as I told him about the video. We were both so happy. And then, when the self-doubts set in – being filmed introduces a whole new level of vulnerability not associated with written words – I could sense Mom’s affirmations, her wholehearted support of my efforts, her joy.
I described these incidents to a dear friend and asked if she ever has similar instances with her departed husband. She smiled, nodded, and said, “Yes. Sometimes the veil is thin.”
Indeed it is. My two most ardent supporters haven’t left me. They’re part of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1).
Though there are many things we don’t know about heaven and our loved ones’ current state, there are others Scripture is quite clear about:
- Believers who are absent from the body are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
- Jesus is preparing a place for us and will return to take us Home (John 14:2-3).
- Our bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
- We will dwell in His presence forever (Revelation 21:1-3).
- There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4).
As the clock continues to count down to Jesus’ return, let us comfort each other with the words of the Apostle Paul:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Dear Lord, as we recall all You did for us and await Your return, it is comforting to know that our departed loved ones are resting in Your presence. How sweet are the moments when You allow us to feel their nearness, and how dear the promise that we will one day be reunited in the new Jerusalem to live with You forever. Thank You for Your infinite, eternal love that unites us to You and each other.
 Please see “Legacy of Love,” Archives, July 31, 2020.
 Please see “Twenty-five Years,” April 19, 2022.