For many years, I have been a regular visitor to local care centers. This probably started when, as a child, I went with my grandparents as they served in an LDS branch at their nearby care center. And perhaps much of it stemmed from my dear friend Grace. I have found care centers to serve in wherever I have lived, and for the past 6 years, I’ve been going to the local care center with a group in my YSA ward to sing to the residents. In all those years, many of my dear friends there have returned Home. It is a fresh pang of grief at each passing.
Close to the beginning of this year, I got a call from the care center asking for us to come in and visit one of the residents. The family of our dear Doris Barker had requested that we be called. DB, as she was known to many, had become extremely sick and she was on her way Home. My roommate and I dropped by that evening to sing her a few hymns. Some of the family was gathered and they were waiting for us to come.
DB had been one of my first friends at the care center. When we first started going, we visited residents individually and sang to them. I learned of her life of trial…a young DB had a stroke in her early 30s, just around my age, and she miraculously raised 5 boys with her limited physical capabilities. She loved to hear us sing and her high praises of our group caused us to be in high demand around the care center, so we started gathering residents as a group so we could sing to all of them. With a twinkle in her eye and a funny grin, DB always told us she was “mean and ornery” when we asked how she was.
As my roommate and I visited that evening, we hoped DB would make it just one more day, as her family wanted as many singers as could come, to say goodbye and bring peace in her final moments.
When we checked in the next day, DB was barely hanging on. We gathered a group of us around her bed and we sang her favorite hymn “O My Father” and a few other hymns. She was there, and yet not there at the same time. She was headed on Home. Many tear-stained eyes sang the beautiful refrains of “When I leave this frail existence, when I lay this mortal by…” (O My Father, Hymns 292).
DB passed away later that evening. Her family asked us to sing at her funeral and 17 of us gathered to sing to her memory. We still miss her “mean and ornery” self.
|DB with my roommates and me at our annual
Big Band Night for the elderly single adults in our area
This past Sunday morning, as our singers went to our weekly visit, we heard of another dear fan of our singing, who is fighting for her last moments of life as well. This beautiful lady is an artist and painted many pictures for our singing group. She always supplied us with candy and brought us all sorts of treats on her birthday. But as she struggled to hang on this past Sunday, the family, who has been there every week when we’ve come to sing, asked us to come to her room and sing to her as well.
Our group of singers surrounded her bed and sang the refrains of “The Lord is My Shepherd“, “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” It was another one of those moments where words don’t define the feeling and you know you’re standing on sacred ground. It was hard to hold back tears.
I have had such sacred experiences as these before. They have made incredibly deep marks on my soul. When the veil is thin, you can almost see the angels who surround us welcoming their loved ones home with open arms. It is a moment when I am reminded of the peace we gain from believing in and living for the life yet to come. These moments have reminded me this is not the end. This is just part of an eternal beginning.
As a young woman, I frequently babysat a neighbor family with several children. In 1999, the mother of this family found out she was expecting. Her baby had a serious genetic condition and he was not expected to survive much beyond birth. When the baby was born, my mom and I took the other children to go meet their brother and see him for whatever moments he would be on earth. This sweet mother let me hold her precious, tiny, and struggling baby for just a few moments. He only lived for 6 hours and she shared a precious handful of those minutes with me. It was beautiful and poignant. A little boy, so new from heaven and so close to returning. A holy child, a holy place.
Three years ago, my Grandma Helen was recovering from pneumonia in a rehabilitation center. She didn’t seem to be recovering as well as she should have. On a Saturday evening, I felt that I should cancel my plans and go and see her. I went to the center and sat with her for a few hours. She was so sick and seemed to struggle to find relief. My dear grandma’s feet were old, worn, and she had so many problems with them. But I felt she needed them rubbed. So I rubbed and massaged her feet and sang to her. It was sacred for me to spend that time alone with my grandma. Her situation worsened overnight and she was taken to the emergency room the next day. She passed away with our entire family gathered around on that Monday. As we gathered together and sang and prayed and held each other, we watched my dear friend and grandma slip peacefully away into the next life.
In these and other moments, I realize I don’t completely understand what happens when someone passes from this life to the next. But there is something sacred about it. I know many passings are not peaceful. Many are alone. But to some of us, at certain points in our lives, is given the opportunity and blessing to share in those final moments. And in those moments, there is an almost certainty that God is real, that heaven is real, that angels are real, and that life continues on. The nearest approximation to words that I can give to the feeling is “something of the sacred.”