Dying Safely

by Ruminate Magazine October 31, 2012

[E]ighteen years ago, my 5th grade year in elementary school, I met the girl with the long scar down the middle of her chest. Her name was Lillian, she had brown, wavy hair, big brown eyes, and she was so full of energy, she bounced around. “So did you lose your hair after you had the heart transplant?” I asked. In my defense, I was the new kid, on the chubby side, and totally insecure and desperate for friends. I suppose I thought this was an excellent segue into friendship. She laughed, explained that her hair was indeed not a wig, and friendship it was. Through junior high and high school, we had hardly anything in common.  I was a cheerleader. She loved art. I liked the preppy good guys. She liked the rebels. I spent my time doing theatre and singing, and she spent her time in hospitals, advocating for organ donors, and at cardio camp. We were sisters though. We fought. We got on each other’s nerves. We went on family vacations. We took senior pictures together. She was one of my bridesmaids. We spent nights and days at the hospital when she suffered all the repercussions of surgery and medication for her stroke, kidney transplant, and heart transplant. She made me proof her papers and casual e-mails because she could not spell. And I made her walk me through everything when my 5 month old son was diagnosed with a pulmonary valve stenosis and had surgery. Three weeks ago, Lillian died in her sleep five days before her 30th birthday. The arrangements were quickly made. Her family and friends communed and told stories about her life. We remembered her--her stubbornness, energy, loyalty, love for life, frustrations, final conversations, and her passions. We remembered her humanity. But I hated it all. I have never lost anyone close to me before, and I did not like the beginnings of it. Some call death natural, but I do not believe it is. We were created to live in perfect unity with the Father, and not to stand around and experience the horror of someone’s family and friends devastated and terrorized by this very horrible thing, death. And yet there is also the confidence that Lillian is with her Father now. That she is happy. That there are no more hospitals or strokes or biopsies or transplants or unmet expectations or sadness.  In C.S. Lewis’ words,

On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall…[Death] is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

I do not have any wise words to impart about death. I am still experiencing the effects of losing someone that I love. But I do know that there are small acts of grace in the arms of the Savior. Music is my favorite act of grace and my favorite art form. I am the girl who unashamedly worships, and I love that God uses music to get to my heart. The Sunday following Lillian’s death, some friends and I performed a new, eerie version of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and the final words were certainly timely grace in the face of grief:

Be near me when I'm dying, O show Thy cross to me; And to my succor flying Come, Lord, and set me free. These eyes new faith receiving, From Jesus shall not move; For he, who dies believing, Dies safely through Thy love.

by Whitney Hale




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