The imminent death of little Emily, aged five, has hung like a black cloud over our family ever since her diagnosis with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) in late October 2021. The world suddenly shrank, and any sort of equilibrium seemed to have gone. Finally on Tuesday 24 May 2022 Emily breathed her last. Death stalks the land, and no one will escape. 

For the past seven or eight months, Emily has dominated my thoughts in a way that l could scarcely have imagined, and that has been true for others in the family, especially Emily’s devoted parents. People have struggled for words in expressing their empathy and sympathy, and I have likewise struggled. In 1758 Jonathan Edwards died after a smallpox vaccination went wrong. His wife, Sarah, wrote to their daughter: ‘What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.’ I have the same question: ‘What shall I say?’

God determines our times here on earth

            Before we were formed in the womb, God had written in His book all of the days that were determined for us even before there were any on them (Ps.139:16). ‘Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble … [and] his days are determined, and the number of his months is with You, and You have appointed his limits that he cannot pass’ (Job 14:1, 5). Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from our Father’s will (Matt.10:29). The Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21; see 1 Sam.2:6). In God’s providence there is a time for all things – to be born and to die, to weep and to laugh (Eccles.3:2, 4). 

            We prayed for a miracle, we sought the best medical care, we listened to experts and would-be experts, and it could easily have become frantic. But underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut.33:27). God’s determining of our days did not make for fatalism – we wish His will were very different – but did provide comfort that however unsettled and disturbed we were, His purposes would prevail. And His purposes are for good.

Death highlights the issue of eternity

            In 1945 Charles Williams, whom C. S. Lewis called his ‘dearest friend’, died after a short and unexpected illness. Lewis wrote of his death: ‘It has made the next world much more real and palpable.’ With less depth and insight, I have ransacked every text from the Word of God – promises of deliverance; statements about God’s chastening love; encouragements to trust in the darkness; and to know what we cannot know. We have this life, the intermediate state, and then the new heaven and new earth. Every word is rich for us; we are to feed on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Let me cite just one verse from Isaiah: ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem’ (Isa.66:13). We are here for a short time, but believers will then see Christ and be made like Him (1 John 3:1-3). That is what it is all about.

Jesus will say: ‘Little girl, arise’

            Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter with these words (Mark 5:41), and I prayed that this would happen in Emily’s case before her death. But it didn’t. Yet it will. David knew that for his infant son: ‘I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’ (2 Sam.12:23). Death will not have the last say; the Messiah will. In the meantime there are struggles in deep waters, but there is a promise: ‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit’ (Ps.34:18). Somehow the Lord uses this to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor.4:17) where there shall be no pain or suffering or death but only joy forevermore (Rev.21:4). 

(Editor’s Note: Little Emily is the granddaughter of Peter Barnes)