I’ve had the absolute privilege of growing up in two families – my own incredible (big!) family and my church families. Both of them I’ve taken for granted far too many times. Both of them I’m super thankful for.
While I’ve always known I was blessed to be a part of my family, it never occurred to me how special my church family was until I was in high school and a friend commented (during one of those completely random lunch conversations) that she’d never been to a wedding.
I couldn’t believe she was serious! She was fifteen and had never been to a wedding? Or, as I found out, a funeral. It didn’t seem so strange to her – her family were all still alive and her siblings too young to get married. Which made me think of all the weddings and funerals I’d been to and who they'd been for. Turns out, the vast majority of them were people I knew from church.
We changed the topic pretty soon after that (fifteen-year-old girls tend to do that!) but it was something I thought about on and off after that – how privileged I was to have friends of all different ages and walks of life. With many of those people, all I had in common with them was a belief in Jesus and our church, and yet, that was always enough.
I’ve met some pretty cool people through church, and some of my favourite – my absolute heroes – are a group of ‘senior saints’, as they're affectionately known, at the church I grew up in. I don’t think I’d get in too much trouble for calling them 'old' given they’re all eighty or older! But seriously, they’re amazing. Their faith, hope, generosity and prayer lives are unbelievable. It’s one of my greatest hopes that I’m as faith-filled as them when I’m their age.
Only they won’t be around to see it. They’ve lived full lives and can’t wait to get to heaven. I, on the other hand, really aren’t ready to let them go.
I was really struggling with this one night in particular a couple of years ago. One of them, an amazing man named George, was dying, and there was nothing I could do about it but figure out how to say goodbye. I didn’t want to. He made me laugh, his prayers filled me with faith, he’d held my baby girls in his beautifully wrinkly hands and let them ride in his walker. He was special. I really didn’t want to let him go, yet I had no choice. Each time I went to see him, he was less like the George I knew, fading in and out. I knew he didn’t have long left, especially when I heard he’d caught a virus.
Then I had this dream.
In the dream, I was standing in a hall set up for a wedding or something with tables and big flowery displays on the tables. I must have been working at the function because I was just watching, there was no one else there at that point. And then I heard someone walk in behind me.
I turned around to see George, standing tall, dressed smartly in a black suit, cheeky grin on his face that I loved so much. He checked to see if anyone was watching, then, apparently deciding no one was, swiped one of the flowers and, with great flourish, presented it to me. I grinned, accepting it. How could I not? His enthusiasm for life was pretty infectious, and it was such a gentlemanly, chivalrously, cheekily ‘George’ thing to do!
But then he looked at me, suddenly serious, and told me something. He said that flowers didn’t last forever. “Enjoy the flower, Hannah, but when it dies, don’t hold on to it. Let it go. Flowers were never meant to last forever. Neither are people.”
I woke up knowing God had been speaking to me even while I slept, telling me I had to let George go.
George made it through that particular virus and lived another few months before he finally went home to Jesus. Mum and I went to visit him a few days before he died. He barely knew we were there, but he knew God was. And he was still praying. Talk about an inspiration! His funeral was an absolute celebration.
George wasn’t the first of my elderly friends to die and he certainly won’t be the last. I still struggle with the thought of saying goodbye to them but every time I do, I remember that dream. I remember George’s grin as he swiped that flower and his admonishment not to hold on to things that don’t last. And I remember that I’ll see him again. One day.
Because God does last forever, and for those who believe in him, goodbye isn’t forever.