There are many ways we might leave our bodies on this earth. Approaching this inevitable transition can range from fearful to peaceful, as I have learned from four experiences with people close to me.
Not long ago, I lost a dear friend of 30 years. We worked together in special education at a local school and shared the challenges of stressful and emotionally charged jobs. Our bond extended beyond retirement. I was shocked to hear from her on a Friday: “I am in the hospital. I have cancer in my lungs, liver, and bones.”
I visited her two days later, after she was discharged to hospice. She was alert, fully clothed, mobile, eating, drinking, not experiencing any pain. We laughed as we looked at old pictures and reminisced about shared experiences.
She wanted to talk about the afterlife. I read “Native American Prayer” to her about death, and she loved its message.
Ten days later, I visited her again. She was weak, unable to sit up or stand. She was not eating or drinking and was heavily medicated for pain. She was totally lucid, however, asking me about the trip I had recently taken. Our conversations and hugs were slipped in between her dozing and sleeping.
I read a scripture passage about the body wasting away but facing impending glory — one which we had shared at the death of her significant other. She said, with peace and conviction, “I am ready to die.” She had said her goodbyes to family and dear friends. She harbored no self-pity, anger, or regrets. She died the next morning, only two weeks after telling me she was ill.
Her passing was one filled with awareness, acceptance, and gratitude for the life she led and for the people who loved her. She had no fear.
My earliest experience with death was with my parents. My father fought death with every fiber until the absolute end — the same approach he took when he denied the inevitability of my mother’s passing 20 years earlier.
When my mother was terminally ill with colon cancer, my father did not want to face losing her. He spent her last days researching “miracle cures.” Years later, when he himself became ill, he refused to discuss anything related to the planning of arrangements upon his death.
Sadly, my father could not rejoice in approaching heaven, despite his many years of a faith-filled life. As he approached his passing, he was unable to express joy in the rich and wonderful life he had led, and to talk about his arrangements for his memorial.
My precious daughter Amanda was born significantly disabled, with an accompanying seizure disorder. She lived in our home until age 13, when her care became too overwhelming.
In her late 20s, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. She was asymptomatic for several years. Just prior to her 36th birthday, her lab tests indicated a rapid decline. She was living in a wonderful group home that allowed her to enter home hospice, where staff continued to provide loving care.
I was permitted to be in her room 24/7 with my husband and Amanda’s sister and husband, even in the midst of Covid-19 concerns. We all read to her, showed her photos, laid by her, sang to her, and played music.
In Amanda’s last moments, we were there as she slept peacefully. We watched her breathing slow, and eventually stop. She was our angel on earth.
Staff came from their homes to say goodbye to her, their words precious to me beyond description. After her death, we received a card with a dragonfly created by artist Heidi Leppala. The dragonfly, I learned, is a symbol of transition that reminds us our loved ones are watching over us. I was so touched by this concept that I recently got a dragonfly tattoo on Amanda’s birthday.
While this experience is heartbreaking, I celebrate it. Amanda was at peace. She knew that she was surrounded by unconditional love and dedication. Her death was spiritual — the way I believe that transition from this earth to the afterlife is meant to happen.
These experiences have taught me that death need not be dreaded or feared. When my own time comes, my hope is to be able to transition with full acknowledgement of the love, acceptance, peace, and gratitude my life has given me.