It is easy to begin well, but it is much more difficult to finish well. This is true in many areas of life, but it is especially true when we talk about marriage. For most of us, the choice to get married was made without much consideration of what the end of marriage would look like. No, I’m not talking about divorce, I’m talking about death. We repeat the traditional vows, promising to love and to cherish in sickness and in health until parted by death, but we rarely think about what that kind of commitment looks like as we approach the end. Since most of us get married in our youth, it is almost impossible for us to consider the fact that in all likelihood one or both of us will end up suffering from some long-term illness that will require end-of-life care. However, if we are to truly uphold the marriage covenant, then we must be willing to make preparations, not just to start well but to finish well.
Several years ago, Baptists for Life, Inc. published a pamphlet written by Mark B. Blocher which dealt with questions relating to euthanasia and assisted suicide. It includes three promises to make to those who are dying, and I assert that every individual who is married or considering marriage should give them much thought.
Promise #1: You will never be a burden. The person who is gradually slipping into dependence on others must be made to believe his or her most basic needs will never become burdensome to caregivers. We must joyfully and generously meet our biblical obligation to care for one another at the end of life. We show mercy because God is merciful (Luke 6:36). Circumstances may be inconvenient, but people? Never!
Promise #2: You will not die in pain. We should take a person’s pain seriously, and make every effort to alleviate it (Proverbs 31:6-7). Alert non-professionals can observe a patient’s verbal and non-verbal expressions of pain, report them to those in a position to provide relief, and offer comfort.
Promise #3: You will not die alone. Solomon wrote, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Critically ill people have obvious physical needs, but spiritual and emotional ones as well. Rather than withdraw at such times – expecting professionals to take over – Christians must be on hand to offer patients and love ones encouragement, continued friendship, and practical support.
Rather than viewing our spouse’s illness as a means of nullifying our marriage vow, we must be faithful to do what we have promised according to the integrity of our hearts as obedient to the Lord. These promises are a vitally important way of showing the self-sacrificing love of Christ to the one we have chosen to love.