The Sheet

by Andy Wood on May 10, 2010

in Five LV Laws, LV Stories, Principle of Legacy, Turning Points

You never knew Lillie Edwards.  I hardly did either, except for a brief two-week period years ago.  But Lillie will always be a significant figure in my life and memory. 

When I met Lillie Edwards, she was dying.  I was green-green-green as a young pastor, serving in my first church in a senior role.

Lillie Edwards would be my first funeral service.  But she taught me some things about living, and about dying, before our paths parted.

The thing I always remember about Lillie is the hope she had in the Lord, and the way she could approach her declining health with a sense of humor.  One wee-hour morning I got a call from her daughter, herself 25 years my senior, telling me she had taken a turn for the worse.  So I hurried up to the hospital, expecting her not to make it.

But Lillie had a few surprises left.  The next morning she was feeling better, and was sitting up in her bed telling doctor jokes.

Lillie didn’t feel well.  But there was never a time I visited her, either at home or the hospital, that, if she was awake, she didn’t offer a big smile and hold out her hand.  It was the classic case of going to offer love and encouragement, and always receiving more than I had given.

Three middle-aged adult children, all from out of town, shared these two weeks together, and allowed me the privilege of sitting in.  I wish I remembered the daughters’ names; the son was named Lawrence.  We spend many hours over those two weeks talking about Lillie.  But they were also very interested in me, and showed it.  Even in their impending grief, they were kind.  And they taught me to be as profoundly affected by their mother’s life as they had been.

All this was so new to me.  The death bed.  The heart monitor that I was surprised to discover didn’t beep all the time, like on TV.  The unique and different kind of care a dying patient receives from the medical staff.  Not worse or better, just different.  Reverent.

Finally all the last medical efforts had been exhausted, and even someone as tough and life-giving as Lillie would soon give up the fight of flesh.  The family and I were called to her room to watch.  To wait.  To be there.

Little was said, and when it was, it was spoken in the hushed, reverent tones of honor.  Lillie was 86 years old, and had lived a long, godly, and honorable life.  The tears seemed more like tears of gratitude than grief.

And I was so fascinated by it all. 

Moved.

In awe, yet a little nervous at the same time.  I had no idea what to expect.

Apparently, neither did Lawrence.

By now the medical staff had pretty much left the family and me alone to say our good-byes and face the inevitable.  We stood and watched for a couple of hours as Lillie’s heart rate continued to decline.

Finally the waves stopped, and the big zero appeared on the monitor.  No one said a word.  For a few seconds, we all were in our own world of thoughts, feelings, and spirit.

Then quietly, reverently, Lawrence walked beside his mother’s bed, took the sheet, and covered her head.

And just as he returned to the foot of the bed… that’s when Lillie’s heart monitor fired up again.

Oops. 

Another very poignant pregnant pause.

Then, out of the corner of her mouth, the oldest daughter said in a terse whisper, “Lawrence! Her heart’s still beating!”

There was no precedent – no protocol ever shown on any of the TV medical shows for such an occasion.  So we just sorta stood there… Mama under the sheet, us at the foot of the bed, not quite knowing what to do.

Knowing Lillie as I had come to, I have this theory.  As the Lord or the Death Angel or whoever came to take her home, I figure she asked for permission.  “Lord, before I go, could I just play this one last joke on my kids?”

Lillie very quickly afterward was ushered into the presence of Jesus.  And in leaving this world, she left me a powerful life message:

If you’re not dead yet, don’t pull a sheet over your head and act like you are.

In many times and many ways, I’ve done that very thing.  I have lived as someone who was dead before they died. Hiding in my emotional cave, believing “facts” rather than the truth, or taking counsel of my fears, I pulled the sheet over my head before the Lord said He was done with me.

I have also done that to others, and have had others do it to me.  Be wise.  Don’t count someone out before the Lord does.  In the words of Mark Twain, “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggeraged.”

I have also seen others do it to themselves.  They gave up on their dreams.  They dismissed their gifts and giftedness.  They surrendered to fear, or gave in to chronic loneliness.  They became a walking corpse.

Maybe that describes you.  If so, may I say, as kindly and gently as I know how, what I have learned to say to people in this situation?

You’re not dead yet.  So quit acting like you are.  Get that sheet off your face and start living.  Jesus came to give you life.  So live!

Thanks, Lillie.  I miss you.

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