I believe we as a society and as individuals cheat ourselves when we abdicate to medical personnel one of life’s most significant events: death.
Throughout the eight years of my father’s slow physical and mental decline, my mother promised him she would do all she could to keep him at home. She sacrificed her involvement in many rewarding activities to be with him and care for him there. Ultimately their local hospice group helped her achieve that goal.
Over the years, my two sisters and I, each living hundreds of miles away, took turns flying to Florida to spend time with them – to give physical help and emotional support to Mother and especially to spend what little time we had left with Daddy.
As my father’s health worsened, I hoped and prayed one of us daughters would be there when he died. I didn’t want Mother to be alone when she said her final goodbye to her husband of 56 years.
Not long after I arrived for a visit this past spring, I realized I would be the sister to hold vigil with Mother through Daddy’s last hours. Friends and family offered their support and prayers and arranged to bring meals. They were sad Daddy was near death and they rightly worried about Mother. Some thought Mother shouldn’t keep Daddy at home because she was compromising her own health.
One friend told me she thought Mother would have a harder time being alone in their house if Daddy died there. She thought Mother would relive his death whenever she passed the spot where he had died.
My response surprised this friend. “Even if Daddy died somewhere else, Mother would never be able to escape memories of him – and doesn’t want to! Daddy’s death will be their last shared event. His death will be a part of his life – part of their life together.
Sometimes in our society we purposefully avoid witnessing death because we don’t know what to do, what to say, how to conduct ourselves. I didn’t know ahead of time how I would respond. But when the time came, I simply needed to be with Daddy. I knew how to do that. How to look deeply into those dark brown eyes and not look away. How to tell him he had been the best father I could imagine having. That I was really glad God had given us to each other.
Mother told me that as she watched Daddy and me together she remembered back when, as a child, I would look up into Daddy’s eyes and reach for the security of his hand. “Today,” she said. “I saw him look up into your eyes and reach for your hand.”
Daddy cradled me in his arms when I entered this world; I held him in mine as he prepared to leave it. His life and death were both a part of my life – and both made my life richer.
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