Can death be holy?

Can death be holy? November 8, 2010
She said we should help create a “holy space.” 

The nurse who was charged with the dying had perhaps the best and worst job anywhere. On one hand, she helped families sort out the messy details of a loved one’s final days. There was the business side with Social Security administrators, Medicare and the purposefully obtuse word that everyone still understands — “arrangements.”

But the good part of her job is that she’s able to help families deal with the inevitable, a reality check that, yes, he was dying and it was time to say “goodbye.”

I was surprised at her usage of the term, “holy space.” I don’t think of death as holy. Better words come to mind like “painful,” “sad,” or “emotional.” But holy?  She encouraged a creation of an environment of simple rest, of friends and family, of quiet laughter and joy. This she said, would usher in a holiness to the experience.

And why not? The dignified, gracious man desired a dignified, gracious end. The man who brought peace to so many deserved a little peace.

The big Norwegian with steel gray eyes looked a little different in his final days. Wrapped in a loose gown, the oversized bed frame made him seem so smaller. Frail. 

He had little to say near the end, weakness choking off his vocal chords. But he always was a man of few words and when he did say something, it was slow and measured. He always contemplated the impact of words, not wishing for them to complicate a situation that could be resolved instead with a smile.

This man’s faith was so simple it frustrated the Pharisees in his life. When faced with life’s challenges – and we all remember them because we lived them – he was a rock. When the cupboards were bare, and the bills were due, and all looked lost, he would simply reassure us. “God will work it out.” And He did. And He still does.

The Redhead, 63 years by his side, was still there, stroking, touching, and giving her undying love. Her mind and body still active, she could have skipped on to her own life, instead choosing to care for him. More than anything, that’s what I hope for in my life.

His heart was always with the open range of his childhood home in North Dakota. “Where never is heard, a discouraging word.” This was his life.

Amazingly, his wrinkles disappeared a little each day until his face was taut and tan like a young man. His pain was gone, almost as if he were being measured for his new body. His last words to me were mouthed, but I knew what he said.  “I love you.” His twinkled eyes still full of admiration as he managed a weak smile.

That night, his systems shut down, one at a time, until he closed his eyes and never woke up.

And when it was over, it was strangely wonderful. We cried. And so did those who fed him and turned him and changed his sheets, because they saw the man he was. Yet, through the tears, we all smiled. This honest, genuine man finally at peace. 

Yes, it was holy. 

I love you Dad and hope that I’ll carry your namesake in a worthy manner.
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