A Letter to the Dying
FEBRUARY 19, 2019
“It is never easy work to crawl out of one’s skin, and the last moulting is the hardest of all.” ~Clara D. Pierson, Among the Night People
I understand that you have reached your last lap, and I can’t get you off my mind.
Perhaps I am the most unlikely person to write this. I’m not on my last lap (at least not so far as I know, and I think the knowing makes all the difference). You are on holy ground that I cannot begin to fathom. I don’t know what it’s like to know that Death will be collecting me soon. I haven’t experienced the humiliations you live with daily. I am not in pain. I don’t feel wrung dry by the expectations of all the people I love or the sad and hard fact that they will soon be making memories without me. I am not in shock over a battle that I have to fight but know I cannot win, and I certainly don’t know the awful loneliness that comes with knowing that I don’t get to take anyone else into the arena with me. I don’t know the nagging fears you may have about time or faith or regrets.
I want so badly, however, to tell you the one thing I do know:
The last lap matters.
My dad has given me many gifts.
When I was a little girl, he used to brush my teeth every night. (I didn’t have a cavity until middle school, and by then, I was brushing my own teeth.) Also when I was a little girl, he showed me how to do the edge pieces first in a puzzle.
He taught me to pray. He instilled in me a love for Scripture. He modeled hospitality. He made up songs for my friends when I was young and drove me long distances to their weddings when I was grown. He used the fancy attorney letters after his name to my benefit, he told me he was proud of my mothering, and he apologized when he made mistakes. My life has been heavily marked by good gifts he has given me.
Then around two years ago, he gave me the most peculiar gift of all: he died well.
When I asked him how he thought his surgery would go, he didn’t even hesitate. He replied with confidence, “A wise person once told me that when you are at a crossroads and you don’t know which way to go, you should look for God’s goodness in both directions. Tomorrow I am going to get healing here or streets of gold.”
I heard him tell my mom regarding the medical decisions she had to make, “I think we always fight for life,” but I also heard him tell her the same day, “You know what I keep praying? ‘Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.’”
His lips were cracked and his tongue and face swollen, but when I sang “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners,” he joined in at the chorus. (Incidentally, when I sing that song now, I remember that day and hear his voice, but it is not a voice encumbered by a swollen tongue and cracked lips; I hear the rich, bold voice I have known since childhood.)
His tombstone was engraved (at his request) with these words from Isaiah: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”
So I’ve been thinking about you because I’ve been thinking about him, and because of him, I want you to know that your last lap matters.
I used to think, if given a choice, I’d wish for a quick, easy, painless death – the kind you have not been given. I have changed my mind about quick and easy deaths because I learned the power of a death done well when my dad died:
The kind of power that reminds vulnerable daughters that Heaven is a manifestation of God’s goodness,
The kind of power that connects a worthy fight with a humble heart,
The kind of power that transforms slurred, lisped singing into the bold music of angels,
The kind of power that takes humiliations, pains, expectations, and fears to the Giver of all good things and receives perfect peace in return.
You see, as it turns out, you are not alone in that arena after all.
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” ~Isaiah 26:3