It was a given in the household when we were growing up.
The children would go to their bed to sleep first. That was not always because the adults wanted to stay downstairs late. It was just the way the order of the home went. So when it was time to bed, we would go and say goodnight to Dad and then goodnight to Mum. The order was that we would go to sleep before they would. That would be the case more often than not.
As we grew older, I always thought there was something really mature and great to be able to stay up late. If there was a programme on the TV that I wanted to watch I’d be keen to stay up to watch it. More often than not, though, it was on a school night and so the answer would be to remind me of the time and I would be going to bed. I remember in particular dragging out the goodnight ritual for as long as possible to watch as much as I could.
“Good night, Dad.” I would start slowly, “Have a good sleep. Hope to see you in the morning.” All this done as deliberately as possible, before doing the same in slow motion for Mum. Finally, more often than not, Dad asserted clearly that the time was up and it was time for bed.
We would go to sleep first and then it would be our parents.
When I left home for university and returned home in the holidays there wasn’t as much pressure to go to bed early. Still, more often than not, they would be last to get to bed. I still honoured and appreciated the goodnight routine with my parents. I would retire to sleep first and then they would.
Decades later and now the guardians of my life have fallen asleep first. They have fallen asleep mere months after each other. Funnily enough, as Dad was usually the last to get to his bed to sleep, on this occasion, he was the first to get to sleep in October 2019. Then in May 2020, my Mum went to sleep also.
These developments have brought a time of great reflection. There are still bouts of sadness at the fact that my parents are not awake at this time. My children are sad at this reality. Yet in a poignant way, this is how my parents would have wanted it. The grace God gave them to see three lives enter the world, they were keen to do all they could to make sure their children made the most of their time awake so they would be ready for the time to sleep. They would also not like to see any of their children go to sleep before them. In His wisdom, God allowed them to see their children and their children’s children rise and shine to the wonder of the day. They were safe in the knowledge that they were in the day. They had this reassurance. Then they fell asleep first.
My parents deposited the understanding in me that it’s important to do what you can while it is day. They referred to what Jesus stated that when night comes no man can work. It’s not the time to work at night, it’s the time to sleep. So while it is day we should do the works of Him who sent us. My parents diligently did the works of the one who sent them. They diligently loved each other. They diligently loved their children. They diligently loved their brethren and their community. They diligently did all that they were told to do while they were awake in the day. Then they fell asleep first.
What prevents overwhelming grief and the sense of total loss is the gift of knowing the One who sent them. Knowing that they fell asleep in their knowledge of Him. As a result of that, there is a promise that one day they will wake up again. They will rise to new life in the One who sent them. They will rise not to suffer neglect and scorn again. They will rise not to suffer betrayal and the hypocrisy of others again. They will rise never to suffer from pancreatic cancer and a terminal heart condition again. They will rise to enriching, everlasting, glorious life in eternal day. They will rise to behold the one that they spent a lifetime purifying themselves for. They will be like Him, for they will see Him as He is.
Meanwhile, they sleep. And in sleeping they leave their daughter and two sons behind them still awake, endeavouring to live in a way that leaves a similar legacy to those around us and those that come after us. As they take their rest it’s only fitting to acknowledge that status:
Goodnight Dad. Goodnight Mum. Have a good sleep. See you in the morning.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden