I always looked forward to my weekly visit to the nursing home to see Bert. He was the kind of person you want to be like when you get old—erudite, curious about things, a voracious reader, a lifelong learner. He was wise and funny, and he could quote Tennyson and St. Paul with equal ease. Bert was a beekeeper, as am I, and we would sit and talk about how my hives were coming along, and which fruits and flowers were in bloom just then. He liked to say, only half joking, that there would be honey in heaven, because the Almighty promised to take His people to “…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
So, I parked my pickup in the shade, strode into the carpeted foyer at the nursing home, past the blue Ali Baba sized ceramic jars that stood guard at either side of the door, and made my way down the hall to Bert’s room. There were two nurses in the room, and a man in a brown suit who was filling out some forms on a clipboard. On the bed there was a body with a sheet pulled up over the head. “Are you family?” the one nurse asked. I said that I was Bert’s pastor. She said, “Oh, well, I’m sorry. He passed about a half-hour ago.”
The nursing home had a flower garden, and Bert had somehow managed to get himself appointed the official gardener. There was a bench in the garden, in the shade, and I went and sat there for a while, to look at Bert’s flowers, and to think. Just two weeks before, sitting on that very bench, Bert had recited for me a few lines from one of his favorite poems, Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar. He would do that sometimes, Bert would, reach into his memory and pull out a poem and recite it. I can still hear his gravelly voice: “Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me. And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea… I hope to see my Pilot face to face when I have crossed the bar.” I looked down at one of Bert’s flowers, a flaming orange zinnia with a blossom the size of a cupcake, and there was a honeybee.
Sometimes our caregiving comes to an abrupt, unhappy ending—the people we care for, and care about, die. But as Christians, the arena of our hope is not confined to the span of this life. “Whether we live or die,” said the apostle Paul, “we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). Death may separate us from those we most love, but it does not separate us from the one who most loves us. If we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we certainly know who is beyond the grave – Jesus Christ our Lord. And when we know that we know enough.