It’s a little after eleven on a Monday night, and my husband has just left the house to administer last rites to a man to whom he’s been ministering for a little over a year. This happens every so often; I can always tell when I hear him talking on the phone after nine at night. His particular ‘parish’–the people whom he visits, who attend the services he leads–tend to be early-to-bed folks, so a phone call that late is rarely good news.
Goodbye never comes at a good time. And even when it’s an expected parting–even when it approaches at the end of a long illness or catastrophic accident–death is never not a shock.
My husband will anoint the departing friend with oil. He’ll say those ancient words that have been repeated for generations of believers. There are assurances of mercy, promises of grace, forgiveness, and love.
I’ve sat overnight at two death beds. I’ve made my vigil as both of my parents passed from this world into the next. There is something about saying goodbye in the still silence of nighttime that makes us feel a little more alone. The dark velvet reminds of that we came into life alone and we leave it the same way.
I’ve written precious few death scenes in my books. Yet the two I have both happened at night or in the early morning. I don’t think that’s an accident.
I know that my husband’s presence will bring comfort to the soul on his way beyond and to his loved ones. I’m so blessed by knowing that God has given him the gift of sharing comfort and peace with those who most need it.
Goodbyes–especially those that feel forever–are never easy. There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that brings me a measure of peace when I’m struggling.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.