Sunday, January 28, 2007

When Death Comes

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

My desk at the hospital is in front of a large bay window. I have a lovely view of the back of the property and the tree-lined lane that winds towards the road. I also face the morgue and frequently see a hearse coming to pick up the body of a recently deceased patient. For most people, death is an infrequent visitor and serious thoughts and discussions on the subject are avoided.
My husband and I went to a funeral home this afternoon to visit with the family of a man who died this week. Mahlon was 96 years old and had a long, happy life with the respect of his family and friends. His faith was strong and he shared his hope of eternal life with those who visited with him in his last frail days. He knew my husband's family in his youth and loved to tell us about his relationship with them in the early part of the 20th century. He witnessed many changes in the world in his lifetime. Today was a celebration of a life well lived, more than the grieving that comes with an untimely passing.
I have been reading the poetry of Mary Oliver this month and have enjoyed her poems that deal with subjects related to death, both of human kind and also of the "circle of life" as seen in the natural world. This was my favourite as it speaks so eloquently of living life to the fullest each day and facing death preparedly and fearlessly.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


  1. Very moving, Ruth. To be reminded of death through your office window must be hard. But your reflection on death by Mary Oliver somehow makes it easier, yes?

  2. My first time reading your blog, and my, oh, my--you used Mary Oliver's poem. I read this poem last year around Easter (how appropriate). I also used the title "When Death Comes" for a recent blog I wrote at the beginning of January on my father, who is still living.
    Interesting how Mary Oliver's poetry moves people everywhere.

  3. "to look upon time as no more than an idea"

    I like that line best from this poem.

    She does seem to write a lot about death, or is that just in my reading?

  4. I always feel sad for those who fear death. I can't imagine knowing you are dying and being fearful. I figure we are loaned this time, and when it's our time to go, we'll go. So we really must do as Mary says and be brides married to amazement, for we don't know when our time is done.

  5. Question - Were we fearful at birth? ...then why fear death.
    Life is just a temporary assignment in the plan of eternity. Having faced death and given a second chance I have pondered much on the subject.
    Good blog BS&S

  6. Both that poem and your blog are very moving. Several lines spoke quietly to me. I guess I'll have to look for Mary Oliver's poetry. Thank you. This post changed me a bit.

  7. Mary- I really don't mind the view from my window. I can say a prayer for the family and be thankful that I have another day of life to share with others here.

    KGMom- Thanks for stopping. I checked you out too, and I think we have a lot of shared life experiences. I read your post about your dad...very special indeed!

    Laura- We are such slaves to time, counting minutes instead of looking at it as a continuum into eternity. Mary Oliver does deal with death a lot in her poems, but she also writes about the joy and beauty of life. I like the balance in her themes and her honest perspective.

    Jayne- I think people fear the process of death more than the final moment. In your work, you have seen those who "die well", and others who fight and struggle with fear and anger.

    OmaLois- You do see things from a unique perspective with your past experience. I am glad you are here to pass on your wisdom and experience.

    Lynne- Laura introduced me to Mary Oliver, and I am sure you would enjoy her poems too. I got her books from the library but will be buying at least three of the volumes.

  8. Death makes us uneasy because we are frightened of permanence. Think about that for a minute. Forever is a scary concept.
    Speaking of death, I will be attending two funerals this week. But instead of thinking about them being gone, I have been celebrating their lives in my mind. They would be ticked off if we moped and boo-hooed too much.
    I liked the poem very much, Ruth.

  9. Susan- Yes, the unknown can be fearful for us. Funerals are a good time to remember the brevity of life, but also to celebrate a life well lived.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.