on dying well

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Genesis 116:15

In Almost Paradise“white-haired craggy poet” Sam Hamill has included a lovely poem about an orchid. Sort of. And here is an excerpt that explains exactly how I feel about it:

and I can’t explain why it
moves my heart, why such pleasure
comes from one small bud
on a long spindly stem, one
blood red gold flower

opening at mid-summer,
tiny, perfect in its hour.

It has a lot of things I like in a poem—strong images with understated effects, like alliteration and soft (and not too frequent) rhymes.

“Perfect in its hour.” I like that too, since so few things are.

But it’s not a poem about an orchid, really. It’s about death, not only for flowers but for us. And dying well is something Katie and I have been thinking about for some time.

We’ve cared for four people at end of life, a neighbor, his wife, and both our moms. And it is exhausting work. Katie seems wired for it. Few people are.

But we have resolved to die with dignity and faith, from both the positive and negative examples we’ve seen. It isn’t always pretty.

So we talk sometimes about our attitudes and our expectations, because when our time comes we want to be gentle and gracious, careful in our demands and realistic in our desires. Yes, we are only 58 and 60, but we figure we must start now.

Being gracious or patient is not a disposition you can learn on your deathbed. And we want our children as well as our God to see us as ones who honor His sovereign purpose and welcome His call.

I don’t expect it to be easy. And we have a lot yet to learn. But we are determined to learn it, and to extend grace with calmness and certitude in our final hours.

This commitment to each other has strengthened our love for each other. You don’t have to read my blog much to know I am falling more deeply in love with my wife everyday.

Part of this is because we know the journey is getting shorter. And by resting in Him and in each other we prepare ourselves for that moment when our marriage, a mere ““Parable of Permanence”as John Piper puts it, dissolves into a greater mystery .

We don’t expect to be married after we die. But we do expect to be prepared when we get there. Our marriage is a proving ground for that hope and a treasure for this moment.

Hamill ends his poem with this image. And I wept:

deepest mystery
in washing evening dishes
or teasing my wife,

who grows, yes, more beautiful
because one of us will die.

It’s true. For both of us.


You can read the poem here.

You can buy Hamill’s book, Almost Paradise, here.

You can hear Garrison Keller read the poem here.

12 thoughts on “on dying well”

  1. As the poem, your post was deeply meaningful and short. Would that every believer would take to heart what you have said. It matters how we who name the name of Christ die. Well Done!

  2. Beautiful. . . and meaningful. Bob & I celebrated our 31st anniversary today . . . we’re in your age group. . . and like you, we’ve been in conversation about departing gracefully/full of God’s grace. Some details about funerals & estate planning are still TBD, but those pale in significance to the reflections in your post.

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