During a recent glance at Facebook, I came across a popular sketch by artist Charles Santoso depicting a grieving family at an elderly relative’s hospital bedside.
As the woman’s feet lie motionless, her transparent upper body sits up, facing in wonder the souls of loved ones who have come to greet her at her passing. A man, perhaps her deceased husband, holds out a glowing bouquet of flowers with a gentle smile; spirits of a dog and a cat hover nearby.
Having worked extensively as a children’s illustrator, Santoso captures this poignant moment in soft, rounded lines and muted tones that make the mysterious seem perfectly natural. The title is equally reassuring: “Goodbye and Welcome.” The woman’s death, which has left her earthly relatives bereft, marks a wondrous homecoming in another world beyond our sight.
Although I don’t think you’ll find Santoso’s sketch hanging in church, the message of this image is certainly one that Christians can embrace. For us, death means that “life is changed, not ended” (Roman Missal).
Our straining eyes cannot peer into heaven, but our faith and our hearts can at least imagine, in some measure, the joy with which souls are received there.
And for those who have died that we might live in freedom and peace, I pray that welcome is even warmer, especially since the wounds of battle are deep indeed.
My grandfather fought in World War I, and his military portrait, with its vintage oval frame, hung proudly in our family room. As a child, I often gazed at the solemn young man standing erect in his uniform, looking at some unknown point beyond the camera lens.
He died when I was just two years old, but while growing up, I was often told that wartime memories of a mustard gas attack and the drowning death of a fellow soldier had haunted him well into his later years.
“He tried desperately to save his comrade,” one relative told me. “The man was grasping your grandfather’s hand, but the current was too strong for both of them. He never forgot the sight of the river sweeping his friend away.”
I know that my grandfather also experienced many additional horrors in a war whose carnage was unprecedented. Like countless other veterans, he lived with silent scars for the rest of his days — sometimes well, at other moments with great difficulty, as family members attested.
But I believe that when he collapsed quite suddenly from a massive heart attack, he was met by a fellow Soldier: one who had fought the greatest battle of all, and whose wounds healed those of my grandfather, and of all those torn by strife.
In that encounter, my grandfather found the strength to say goodbye, and to accept an eternal welcome.
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