The Gift of Music.

The family greeted me with the words, “She’s not responsive.”  The elderly matriarch had been brought to the hospital earlier in the day.  She was dying.  The family had gathered around her bed and had requested that a chaplain come.  And I did.

The family, several children and their spouses, her brother and sister-in-law, seemed to be at peace, understanding that these were most likely the last hours of her life.  They weren’t quite sure what to do at this point.

Prior to entering the room I had checked the patient’s chart and noted that she was of the Christian faith, and had been very active in her church.  I could surmise that her relationship with God had been a very important part of her life.  This was the assessment of the family as well.  I asked if the patient had any favorite hymns or songs and a daughter immediately shared, “Her favorite song is ‘I’ll Fly Away.'”  “Very appropriate,” I thought.

“Do you mind if I sing it to her?”  “Please do,” the daughter responded.  And so I pulled a chair up to her bedside and sat as close to her as possible, with my face only a few feet from her.  I stroked her hair and I introduced myself to her.  And I sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away…”  Several family members joined in.  Almost as soon as my mouth opened to sing, her eyes opened and locked onto mine.  She was no longer unresponsive.  The family came closer around the bed.

…”To a home on God’s celestial shore; I’ll fly away.  I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away.  When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.”  We finished the song and she still stared at me, unblinking.

“I think she wants another song,” the daughter said.  So, another song.  This time, “Amazing Grace.”  “When we’ve been there ten-thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”  And at the end I read her the 23rd Psalm and I prayed.  A short time later she passed from this life into God’s presence.

As a hospital chaplain I have known no greater fulfillment than being at the bedside of a dying patient.  It is a sacred time…a holy time.  I especially appreciate when I am able to share music and Scripture, and prayer, with the patient and family.  Once, during a visit with a dying patient in an emergency room I was able to read the 23rd Psalm, with soft music playing in the background.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  As I read, he too, slipped into God’s presence.

Another visit that stands out in my memory took place in an Intensive Care Unit, where an elderly lady was dying.  Her huge extended family had gathered in the room.  There were children, grandchildren, great grand children, and even a great-great-grand-child or two.  They gathered in the room and told stories about her.  They laughed and they cried.  Then, one of the grandsons stood and began to sing.  And we were on holy ground.

We view birth as a precious and sacred time.  We look forward to it, plan for it, and think about it.  We prepare for a birth.  But in our Western culture, we have come to view the other end of our life as something to be dreaded, something to be feared – something to be postponed as long as is possible.  But, should it be this way?  Scripture tells us that a wise person “counts his or her days.”

Perhaps we should spend more time getting comfortable with our own mortality.  Perhaps we should prepare, as much as is possible, for our own sacred scene.

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Kim Chafee

I am a lover of the God who sings! I am a Christ-follower and an ordained minister married to the other Rev. Chafee (Scott), with two grown children and a multitude of pets. And, I love chocolate. Read more about me and the reason for this blog on my ABOUT page.

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