Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

I Thessalonians 5:11

Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime. Some seasons are short, and some reasons are improbable. As I look at my life and my ministry, I’m thankful for all the positive things (and even some of the negative ones) that I’ve experienced, and the circumstances that have affected me in a positive way—some for a specific reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime. Sometimes the circumstances of ministry leave me wondering why me, or why a certain circumstance. Sometimes, when I see God’s glory at work, especially when it is unexpected, I feel grateful for the season, thankful that God put me in a certain place with a certain person or family for a certain amount of time. Some of the people who have made the biggest impressions on my life were actually part of it for only a short season, but they have left a large impact for which I am grateful. And sometimes, when something amazing happens, and people say, “Father, you made a miracle,” I try to remember, and to articulate, that it is God alone who makes the miracles, even through unworthy people like me. God works in concert with us. God works through us, all of us, despite our brokenness.

Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone appreciates encouragement. Imagine how you’d feel if all the important people in your life either wrote you a letter or vocalized in your presence how special you are to them. It would leave you feeling amazing. Imagine if everyone did that for one hour, if you received wave after wave of encouragement. It would make you glow with happiness, having that amount of encouragement rain down on you with such intensity. Now imagine if you received that kind of encouragement in the last hours of your life, if everyone in your family not only told you that it was okay to go to God, but also how much you meant to them. You would take your last breath, I would imagine, with joy, with peace and with contentment, knowing that your life had real meaning to the people you are closest to.

Many times we say to ourselves “they know how I feel.” However, in the stress of illness, do they remember? In trying to help get the timing down, so that our loved one is ready to leave this life, in addition to giving them freedom and release, what a great gift to offer them encouragement, to shower them with appreciation, so that they leave life without a doubt that they were loved.

I’ve had the opportunity to be with many families at the end of the life of a loved one. I try, as best I can, to guide them in these situations to have meaningful closure. Many times, I am not successful. It is either too late for meaningful conversation, or the person dying and/or their family wants to keep fighting even when all hope for life continuing is gone, and then death happens without having taken the opportunity for a proper goodbye. This reflection is about a family who did this in an incredible way. In fact, this is the model ideally for how we should say goodbye and how one should feel as he or she slips away from this world and prepares to meet the Lord.

The visit started off in typical fashion. “Does he know he is going to die?” I asked, and the answer was “I think so.” My response was “He’s in hospice, that’s what happens here. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were dying?” “Yes, you are right, we should tell him. But it shouldn’t come from me, it should come from his wife.” I gently talked to his wife, talking about things like “life is like college and the goal is to graduate,” and how the family “breaks the tie” and helps a loved one focus on God and to go to him. After a little while, his wife said “I want to talk to my husband for a few minutes.” She rose from her chair and spoke with him in the most amazing way. Even though I didn’t hear much of the conversation, it was obvious that both of them were conveying love and gratitude for the life they had enjoyed together for almost 60 years. When she finished, she had a look of peace and serenity over her. As she stepped out of the room for a few minutes, her whole family noticed. She relayed to them how they had said goodbye, that she encouraged him to let go and go to God, but with thanksgiving and joy for the life they had had.

The family members who were present decided they too wanted to have conversations like this, so they each went in, one at a time, for a few minutes, and poured encouragement and gratitude on their father and grandfather. When they were done, they were glowing with peace and serenity. And he was glowing with peace and serenity as well.

He passed away early the next morning. These amazing conversations didn’t change the outcome. A wonderful man passed away, and it left a family with a large loss that they will grieve for a long time. What was so beautiful here was that they are left with memories of how they made him feel, how they sent their husband, father and grandfather to eternal rest with the “peaceful” aspect of the “painless, blameless, peaceful” end we pray for in our services. They will also remember how it made them feel—peaceful, complete, that every word was said and every sentiment expressed.

Someone mentioned “Father, you made a miracle,” to which I answered, “the miracle is that you were open to this idea of letting someone go in a way that was filled with encouragement for him, and ultimately peace (even in sorrow) for those left behind.” This opportunity for meaningful closure is not available in circumstances when death is sudden, or when there is long-term mental compromise, such as in the case with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is available in many circumstances when we know that death is imminent and the person dying is still lucid. And sadly, many of us don’t take advantage of it.

Hardly anything worthwhile in life doesn’t require some courage, and this courageous act by a loving family helped bring about a peaceful end to a beautiful life, and those left behind can take a big measure of comfort in that.

Many of us wrestle with doubts and insecurities. We go to bed with them. But we also go to bed with hope that we can have a better day tomorrow. If one is about to fall asleep in death, when one knows there are no more tomorrows on this earth, one should definitely not feel this way. What a gift to send someone out of this life with encouragement, expressing exactly how much they mean to us. So that as they pass from this life, they pass at peace with themselves and the knowledge that they made a difference in the lives of those closest to them. It is the reassurance that one’s life had a purpose and this will allow someone to pass away knowing that they will be remembered, and remembered with joy.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in Whom I trust.” For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hand they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. Because he cleaves to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows My name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation. Psalm 91

As we reflect on “painless, blameless and peaceful” death, hospice and medical personnel help with the “painless” aspect, the church helps with the “blameless” aspect, and family and close friends can help assure the “peaceful” with a big dose of encouragement and gratitude. Memory eternal Mitri, and what a beautiful send off from your loving family. I will always remember that season. This story is actually the inspiration for this unit.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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