Some time ago I spent two-and-a-half years serving as a hospice chaplain. I have mentioned this before and some of the stories I encountered among the faithful people in East Tennessee. Most Hospice situations in America (home hospice) have a sort of commonality. One is that the vast majority of patients are older. Indeed in my time with hospice we never once had a patient who was a child. The reason, I was told, is that young people have such a possibility of life ahead of them that no one wants to declare them beyond help and consign them to palliative care alone. Thus they are usually treated vigorously until the very end.
The same is often true for not just children, but younger adults as well. My story is about one such adult. Unlike most others he had seen his prognosis and chosen hospice. It was difficult for everyone. The day he died I recall being with his young widow and two protestant pastors in the family room at the hospital.
The pastors were typical of many in the mountains of Tennessee: Baptist of the fiercely independent sort, holding part-time jobs to support themselves in small church ministry which is descriptive of most mountain churches.
The young widow turned to me (“Why me?” I thought when she had two pastors of her own in the room). Her question was as clear as it was difficult. “Will my husband be aware of me now that he’s in heaven?” I paused waiting for one of the pastors to jump in. They both looked at me and waited.
Being Orthodox I would have no difficulty with the answer, but I wanted to answer from the Scriptures alone lest I create a scandal. Thus I reminded her of the scene in Revelation where the saints pray for us day and night. I reminded her of the passage in Hebrews that speaks of the “great cloud of witnesses.” I even spoke of the rich man in Hades and his concern for his brothers still on earth (in Christ’s parable).
She seemed somewhat comforted with those passages. But then one of the pastors, a truck-driver by trade and a preacher on the weekend spoke up and gave a definitive answer.
“I think it’s like this,” he said. “I believe that when I get up to heaven I ain’t gonna be any dumber than I am now. So I think he knows you.”
I won’t even ask the proverbial “why didn’t I think of that?” because I don’t think I would have ever thought of that. Thus that day I learned some theology from a truck-driving preacher. And I pray that like him, I won’t be any dumber when I get to heaven.