Eric passed away in the early hours of May 27, 2019. He was supposed to have passed away five years earlier. Eric, cousin of Michael, Bernice’s first husband, had been fighting renal failure for a long time. Five years ago, he refused to start receiving dialysis. Medically, this meant he wouldn’t have long to live. He felt he was ready to go home to his God. Family and friends were told to prepare for his exit. Eric and family were shopping online for biodegradable coffins. Then he suffered a heart attack. The doctors who attended to him had to place him under dialysis in order to treat him. Eric’s exit was delayed.
Five years on, he had exhausted all that medical science could do. The doctors told him to prepare for his exit — again. This time he and his dear wife Elaine, and the rest of the family agreed it was really time to let him go. And Eric was more than ready to meet his God. So they threw a party.
Knowing he had but days to go before his transition into the presence of God, the family organised a party for family and close friends. Eric didn’t want wake services or any elaborate funerals. They decided to hold a gathering before his departure, a time when family and friends could give their eulogies (which just means good words that honour a person and need not be linked to funerals), and Eric in turn could testify about his faith in God and his gratitude to those whose lives had touched his.
Bernice and I went for the gathering not sure what to expect. When we arrived at his apartment, we were ushered in to see an Eric in a wheelchair and fully alive. In fact he told us that Elaine had warned him about looking too alive so that guests would not be confused. It was after all a goodbye party.
We encountered vintage Eric, which meant, among other things, a sense of humour, the importance of knowing the Old Testament, and the centrality of the doctrine of election. The Lord had given me a verse for him:
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV)
I thought it was a good verse for someone taking a critical journey. I told him about the verse in my most pastorly voice. He answered: “Yes, yes, and the next chapter is the Song of Moses” and he went on to give me a short exposition of Deuteronomy 32.
We had to leave early because I was down to preach at a worship service. We said our goodbyes and we left. It was therefore very unreal when, less than two days later, we received news that Eric had passed away. Well, maybe not unreal but our memory of him was one of him fully alive. And now he is even more alive.
We are grateful to Eric for showing us how to go. It seems the church is still quite unsure as to how to prepare people for death. The church’s response to death is still too morbid and as Elaine reminded us at the cremation, she and Eric didn’t want his passing to be morbid. I almost laughed out loud when Eric’s sons played Britney Spear’s “Oops I did it again” as his casket trundled on its way to the furnace but that is a story for another time.
Our son Andrew reminded me of this key line from the movie Black Panther (2018). In a dream sequence, Black Panther’s father says:
“A man that has not prepared his own children for his death has failed as a father.”
I have been thinking a lot about that. And now I have Eric to thank for helping me reflect more deeply about this. So, thank you Eric, for teaching us by your life, and by your death. We will pick this up again when we meet in the new heavens and the new earth.
In Genesis 5:24 we read about a gentleman named Enoch:
“Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (NIV)
Apparently, Enoch didn’t suffer physical death. One moment he was in this mortal plain, the next he was with God. Well, Eric didn’t go through an Enoch experience. But it was close.
P.S. Eric, please forgive me for citing from the NIV.