Beauty in Dying

My dad died on Monday. I watched him take his last breath. I felt his body as it got cold. But those were the endings of the 53 hour journey he took and allowed me and my family to be a part of.

We were instructed to see death as a journey similar to the process of labor and delivery when a baby is born. As with labor, no one knows when it will begin exactly. For my dad, it started in the middle of the night with pain all over his body. From the moment my sister gave him his first dose of morphine we knew he had begun the labor of dying. For the next 53 hours straight we took turns singing hymns, reading scriptures, holding his hand, giving him back rubs and head massages, shifting him from lying down to sitting, holding his head up when he could not, anything that might bring him comfort.

When he became completely unresponsive we continued to talk to him and let him know what we were doing, that we were there, apologizing if anything we did might seem uncomfortable to him. Putting the syringe of morphine between his cheek and gums, I said I was sorry if I didn’t do it as well as my sister…I couldn’t tell if I was pressing too hard on his gums. I held my hand to the opposite corner of his mouth to make sure none of the precious pain reliever was dribbling out; my hand was dry…success!

My daughter and I had the 10pm-12am watch, a little less than 8 hours before he died. We whispered so my mom, who barely left my dad’s side during his dying journey, could get some sleep. I played sudoku on my phone. We would glance at his chest periodically to see if his quiet breathing, nearly impossible to hear over the loud snores of the dog, had changed…it hadn’t.

When I was alerted a few hours later to the arrival of ‘the death rattle’ I slipped onto my parents’ bed, which had been pushed up against the hospital bed so my mom could snuggle with my dad. She held him close, aware his journey was almost over. The death rattle arrives 1-5 hours before the final breath. I decided to go back to bed knowing those on watch would wake me if anything changed. I slept a few more hours then came up to check on my dad…he was still breathing. I couldn’t believe his body was still going!

Within an hour or so, his breathing began to slow, with long delays between breaths. We knew he was close and surrounded both him and my mother with our love and gentle touch. And then he stopped…no more breathing, no more life. Relief. Relief that his labor had ended and he was free of the body that carried him so beautifully and humbly through his 90 years on this earth. We were silent, just soaking it all in.

Slowly, one by one we started talking about him, remembering, laughing, crying. We lingered with him for a long while. We took turns washing his body using a cloth dipped in water infused with frankincense and myrrh. I gently held his stiffening leg in my hand as I washed his foot. I felt such a deep connection with him in that moment, a sense of gratitude for allowing me to be a part of his journey all the way to the end. Tears fell, sobs slipped past my vocal chords and I kissed his cool cheek. I walked away thankful for the beauty I witnessed in my daddy’s ending.

Categories: Acceptance, Healing, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Beauty in Dying

  1. Jerry Davis

    What a beautiful reflection on death – thank you for sharing it. It’s so precious, and so intimate. I am praying for the God of peace to continue to bring peace, courage, and strength as you travel these next months and years without Dad. jed

  2. Cathy

    Karen, As I read your moment by moment sequence of events of your father slipping away into eternal brought me back to those moments I also held my mom as she died a few years ago…such vivid memories relived. As a nurse, working each evening shift, I held many people in my arms that were in the final breaths of life…not sure where they would end up…no family member there to comfort them as they went through the process you described. I knew God placed me there, to witness to them at their brief moments left on earth, to hold their hand and whisper messages of hope about Jesus into their ear. I felt it was just as glorious an honor to be there for their final breath as it is to witness a baby’s first breath.
    I pray that God will grant me a passing surrounded by loved ones…such as what you and your entire family did for your father. May you remember the beautiful memories you shared and be comforted. What a blessed day when we shall all meet again in eternity!
    Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of this with us, the readers🙏

  3. Candy Biederman

    What a beautiful story about your father and his passing from the world to his home!
    Thank you for sharing in such beautiful detail.
    Praying for the weeks and months to come that his absence will never leave your hearts

  4. Janeen

    Thanks Karen for sharing such an intimate occasion with us. A testament to love and adoration. It’s so sweet to trust in Jesus. Just to take Him at His word….just to trust his promise. Just to say, “….thus saith the LORD”……come home…..come home…, who are weary….come home.

  5. Kim Pipkin

    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. I’m glad you were there with your
    Dad in the end. Love and prayers to you and your family. Kim and Don

  6. Anne Weatherley

    Karen, what a beautiful journey you have taken with your father and family. There are few so intimate moments as these, the moments of death. To share them — held in love — what could be more precious. I wish you and your family peace and love. Warmly, Anne

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