Singing at the gates of eternity

Dr. Mark Press penned a touching article in the August 2009 issue of The Lutheran Witness. He tells of being with his mother in the final moments of her life and the privilege he and his family members had of “singing her into eternity.”

I could not help but reflect on the passing of my own father, Earl D. Biggers Sr. For many years, Dad had been a faithful minister in the United Methodist Church. In April 2000, Mother notified my brothers and me that Dad’s cancer would soon be taking his life.

Mother and Dad had retired to California; so my brothers and I were living thousands of miles away. I consider myself fortunate because I did get to spend some days with Dad prior to his death. He had chosen hospice care and was spending his final days at home. I remember Dad getting very weak in the final days. The hospice nurse suggested he try going on oxygen. After an afternoon nap, he rallied and we had some fun reminiscing about our family.

My return flight departed on Monday morning, and my brother, Joel, would be arriving later that day. I remember going into Dad’s room and giving him a kiss on the cheek as he lay in bed. I said, “I love you, Dad,” and he said, “I love you.” I was too choked up to say any more. I always knew my Dad loved me, but at that moment I felt it like I had never felt it before. I also knew I would never see him again in this life.

Dad died the next day. Joel (who’s also now a pastor) told me that he and Mother sat in the adjacent room and listened as Dad drew his final breaths.

Our family has always been open about end-of-life issues. Our parents had always discussed many issues that would have been taboo in other families. After reading Dr. Press’ article, it occurred to me that we had forgotten one aspect: the “final valley.”

Our family is not gifted musically. Yes, most of us have had some form of musical training, but we really never have sung a cappella around the house. Additionally, none of us have musical voices anyone would go to hear. In fact, we “mean” boys have accused our mother of “singing like Edith Bunker” (and we boys sing like “sons of Edith Bunker”).

Since Dr. Press’ article, there was at least one other letter in The Lutheran Witness expressing a similar blessing of being able to sing one’s loved ones into eternity. What a wonderful memory for those families, but what to do for the rest of us?

Years ago, I had to travel extensively for my job. I made it a habit to attend worship wherever I happened to find myself. One Sunday, I attended a one-room church in central Nebraska. It was just a handful of mostly senior citizens. The elderly pastor went to the front and announced their “special music” could not attend today, so he would play a number from his Tennessee Ernie Ford collection. It was a good “old time” hymn, and I was really blessed by it. I eventually went out and bought a Tennessee Ernie Ford tape of favorite hymns for myself, and I pretty much wore that tape out. Even though there are those of us with no personal musical talent, we can still be mightily moved by the words and tunes of those old hymns of the faith.

I can’t help but reflect on my own death someday. My loved ones, while definitely more musically endowed than my brothers and me, still may not have the time, or opportunity, to be at my bedside as I “pass through the valley.” Also, like me and my brothers, my current family is spread all over the country.

I will be thrilled if some dear souls can be present with me when that day comes, and whether or not they choose to sing, I know I will try to arrange to at least have Tennessee Ernie Ford singing those grand old hymns in the background.

Earl D. Biggers, Jr.
Dakota Dunes, S.D.


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