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Dying Words

Ray had been in a coma for four days. Once powerful and muscular, his arms lay quietly at his flanks. Physically exhausted and consumed by his two-year struggle with colon cancer, he lay in his hospital bed motionless, a living chrysalis in an inverted cocoon. He would soon die, most likely within the day.

My hospital visit that morning brought me to Ray’s room at 5:30. The nursing station and patient rooms were quiet and, in one of the paradoxes of hospital life, even peaceful—if such a thing as peace is possible in a place where life and death constantly vie for dominance. Sitting silently at his bedside, Ray’s wife of 40 years, Jean, had placed her small hand softly on her husband’s right shoulder. No examination would be necessary today. In deference to Jean’s vigil, I pulled a chair abreast of hers and joined her silent watch, conjointly marveling at the physical stamina and endurance of the human body and pondering the mystery of the approach of physical death. Lost in our private thoughts and beset by personal memories of this marvelous man, we sat together, bonded by our grief and captivated by the drama slowly unfolding before us.

Suddenly, an awesome thing happened. Lazarus-like, Ray sat bolt upright in his bed. Fiercely clutching the sides of his bed, Ray contracted his arms as he gasped with apparent abject horror into the void at the foot of his bed. This totally unanticipated activity was immediately followed by an equally unexpected loosening of his vocal cords—silent for these four days—in a terrifying scream that cascaded down the quiet hospital corridor.

In four short clauses that reverberate even today in my mind as I reflect on his death ten years ago, Ray screamed into the early morning surrounding his bed: “No! I don’t want to go...I don’t want to die...I won’t go!” Completely exhausted by this emotional and physical outburst, Ray collapsed into the bed, gasped the humid air of the hospital room two or three times, and died.

King Hezekiah would understand.

The Enemy, Norwood R. Anderson, in Christianity Today, February 7, 1994, p. 36