How I learned to Die
When I was five, my mother invited me to sit with her while Uncle Albert died. Perhaps this sounds peculiar and outlandish for a mom to offer a child this invitation. She whispered, “Now, watch closely, Uncle Albert is making peace with his Maker.” I watched intently because from my five year old perspective, it just looked like he was sleeping. Mamma said it was important to sit with the dying because it was part of our living.
As a child, I remember friends and family calling Mamma to sit with them while their spouse or friend was dying. She was an early hospice model. It diminished any fear of dying within me. I recall when I was a young teen sitting with Mamma while another uncle died. We watched and prayed and reminded him we were by his side. I remember feeling God all about the room. She had taught me well that dying was part of our life’s journey.
Through my adult years, I found myself following her example of sitting with the dying. Sometime I would hurt so much for my friend that was dying because their families were afraid. Even when I sat with my dear father-in-law , Hank, I realized my husband and his mother were at a loss as what to expect and do. I read Hank Psalms, prayed with him , and told him all the times he had helped me and taught me. I encouraged the family to do the same. As they shared favorite stories with him, I typed furiously to record each memory. Then, the time came for quietness. The time came for the light to start slipping slowly into Hank’s view. I cherish the memory of leading him to that light and assuring him his cancer pain would soon be gone. I beckoned him into the light and watched him make peace with his Creator.
Strangely enough, when my wonderful step-dad was dying, my mother commissioned me, "Sit with Foster and help him.” She had nursed him for two years in his battle with cancer. She would visit the room periodically but did not stay for the entire journey. She was hurting so much she didn’t want to disturb his peace and reckoning time. My sister and I sang hymns to him and told him stories of how he had changed our lives. We told him how much we loved him and how good he was. I asked him if he wanted me to pray and release his spirit to squeeze my hand. He did, and I put on my tap shoes. Yep, I tapped and sang his favorite song, “I’ll Fly Away O` Glory.” I think I detected a slight smile on that still day. Then, I saw the sunset was coming, and I asked God to release his spirit unto Him. Foster relinquished his earthly body and stepped gently into the sunset. It was a beautiful time with Jesus.
I have been sitting with the dying for sixty years now. As I sat with my mother in her last hours, I recollected her former teaching, “Always tell them you will be here with them.” I told Mamma I would be at her side until she stepped over into the heavenly gates. I watched her make peace and sat languished hours by her side because her heart was strong, and she seemed to have a last purpose in her dying. Nurses and caregivers would stand in her door and listen to me read scripture and pray. Mamma lingered for two days making right her soul. My sister and I told her how much we loved her and shared childhood memories. I remember distinctly when she grew still in body and God was near. I said, “Ah, you see His face, Mamma. You are smiling. Go ahead and I will see you in our future. Go ahead, step into His glorious path.” She too softly left this earth.
I share these stories because I want to alleviate fears of dying and make others realize that they too might be a tool of comfort in helping a loved one step over. Do not fear because God is there in His entire splendor. It is a magnificent time of closure and a miracle time of entering the door of eternity.