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Holten: When that time comes

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

“I just got a text from Shannon that Sylvia’s breathing is real shallow and that it won’t be long. Shannon will let me know when she passes.”

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That is an email message that I received recently from a family member (I’ve changed the names) and, as you can imagine, unlike many emails, it made me stop to think.

In addition to remembering fondly the dying relative it referenced and our interactions, I realized that someday they’ll be sending out a message like that for you and me, and everyone who is reading this and everyone who’s not.

Death is definite.

The question is, if you could know the date of your death in advance, would you elect to do so? I’m not sure I would. Then again, curiosity might get the best of me.

According to the Bible, death means that you’ll be going home to the place that you belong. Now that doesn’t sound too bad.

We all know what it’s like to go home after having been away for far too long time. To tuck ourselves into our own bed and snuggle with our spouse and eat the familiar foods that we like and be amongst the one’s we love. It’s so very nice. Yet, from what we’ve read, Heaven is a whole lot nicer.

When it comes down to it, I don’t fear death as much as I fear the length of it. After all, it’s forever and forever is a long time. It’s not a party that you can leave early if you don’t like it.

Then again, maybe Heaven has a bunch of parties and you can go from one party to the next until you find the one, or a few million others, that you like.

If I had a choice, I might check in on whatever party Abraham Lincoln is attending, or Teddy Roosevelt or John Kennedy, or Elvis. Or I might go to the same party that Natalie Wood is at or Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lady Di or even Queen Victoria for that matter.

I can’t wait to talk to my grandfathers and grandmothers again and Uncle Everett, and all my uncles and aunts who’ve passed on, my cousin Theresa, my good friend Robert and maybe even my cousin that died at birth the same year I was born, who I never had a chance to meet.

Or what about being given the chance to meet all of my grandparent’s brothers and sisters, and great-grandparents, and their parents and their parent’s parents? Won’t that be great?

There’s no denying that dying is going to be one really big experience, so much so that I’m almost envious of those who’ve already passed on but not quite since I’ve still got plenty of things to do here.

At some point when you get older, most of the people you knew are no longer here so going over “there” begins to make more sense.

Martin Luther, the former Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of a reform movement in 16th century Christianity once said, “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” I’m not so sure.

My grandmother was the youngest of a whole pile of kids and she said, just before she died, that they were beckoning her to come home. So I don’t think she felt alone at all when she died even though none of us was with her.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the Swiss American psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies once said, “Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, here’s the follow up email that I received.

Mother passed this a.m. at 5:30 peacefully. The staff had a short memorial service in her room as soon as we arrived.

Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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