Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ushering Them To The Other Side

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
Mary Frye (1932)

One of my biggest fears is dying. It always has been. To be honest, I am not sure if my excessive fear is typical because nobody ever talks about it, at least not in my social circle. I hear all these stories of how people have made their peace with the fact that they are dying or going to die and I cannot wrap my head around that. I do admire and respect these people because to me, it seems like they have a strong faith; one that gives them the courage to face what may come next. I wish I had that courage when it comes to death and dying.

It's not like I have lived this sheltered life of perfect health and harmony. I have had experiences that have had the potential of ending up on the other side: a cancer diagnosis, a car accident where my life flashed before my eyes as my car slammed into a guardrail several times on the highway, a heart procedure that came with all the usual risks. There have been occasions where I have considered the possibility of ending my own life. Seems ironic that I would consider that idea considering my fear of death, but people think all kinds of crazy things when they are in desperate situations.

I think my fear has to do with the unknown of life after death. Despite my Christian beliefs, I do not feel one hundred percent assured that there is this eternal life after we leave our body. Or maybe a better way to put it is that I don't know what this eternal life truly looks like. What does it feel like after you die? Do we feel anything? Do we have internal thoughts like we have now? Are there bright lights and angels singing when our soul ascends into heaven? What if there really isn't a heaven? Too many unknowns for me. Maybe not enough faith.

I had the opportunity recently to be with someone as they died. I had never experienced that before. I have had people close to me die, but I was never present when the actual event took place. For weeks, I have been trying to gather my thoughts and words together to describe how being present with someone you love, as they leave this life, can change a person but the words would not come through the wall of emotional grief that still sits in my heart and my mind. Hence why this entry feels so disjointed to me. But I know that some of the words have to be written because until I get them down, I will not be able to write about anything else.

People talk all the time about the wonders of being born. The miracle of life. A new baby signifies joy and happiness. People gather around the new baby and usher him or her into this world with love and devotion. My experience of being present with my mother-in-law as she died was that the process of dying and death itself deserves just as much love and devotion as the process of being born. However I am not sure that most of our culture recognizes that fact. Maybe because to most of us, it is such a sad event. Maybe because we are already mourning our own loss. But it's not just about us and our own loss. It's about the person who is dying. Their needs. We are not alone when we are born. I think we should not be alone when we die. Unfortunately, we do not get to choose how or when we die so oftentimes, dying alone is inevitable.

I watched my fiancé and one of his sisters keep vigil at their mother's bedside for well over twelve hours before she left us. One of them on one side and one on the other, always touching her in some way. I watched, while stroking her head, my mother-in-law take her last breath. A moment that is permanently etched in my memory. A memory that often comes back to me in my dreams, or even sometimes as a nightmare. But as difficult of a process as it was to be involved with, I saw during those twelve plus hours that it wasn't just the sadness that filled that room, but the love. The love between a son and his mother. The love between a daughter and her mom. The comfort and love that was unfailingly given to my mother-in-law during her last hours was just as important, probably even more important, than the love she received the day she was born.

I have come to recognize that being with a person as they prepare to leave this earth is a privilege and one of the greatest things that we can do for another human being. Is it gut wrenching and one of the most difficult things one might ever do? Absolutely. But it is an opportunity that many people do not get. An opportunity to remind your loved one how much they are loved because I truly believe that your words are heard. It's an opportunity to say goodbye. It's an opportunity to gracefully usher a person to their final destination.

To be honest, it has taken me some time to get to this perspective. The visual images of my mother-in-law in her last hours still weigh heavy in my mind when I least expect them to. However when I consciously and intentionally think back to that day, it is not the memories of her physical state that jump to my mind first. No, not at all. It is the other things. Hearing the quiet whispers of reminiscing between my fiancé and his sister at 3am as I nodded off in the empty bed beside them. The loving words spoken by my fiancé to his mother. The image of my sister-in law holding her mom's hand. The movement of my mother-in-law's hand indicating that she could hear us. The grace and strength that my fiancé demonstrated. My own strength. The moment that she did not take another breath after hearing her breathe for twelve hours; the sign that she was finally at peace.

I pray for my mother-in-law that she is in a much better place, wherever that may be. A place where she experiences no pain, disappointment, sadness, or loss. A place where she can rest and be filled with all of the happiness and joy that she so richly deserves. A place where love constantly surrounds and cradles her. A place that perhaps may be called, heaven.


  1. Chris,

    Your post is beautifully written. Though it was hard on you and your fiance, you did an extraordinary thing by helping your mother-in-law leave this world.

    I don't know if you have heard of it or not, but check out this website:


    It is a website specializing in helping people discuss their wishes for their end of life care. They collect stories from people and post them on the site. I think your story would be an excellent addition.

    1. I have not heard of that website but I will check it out. Thank you!