A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

How to die well

We attended the memorial service for Esther Chistophel this weekend. What a lovely service, and we learned a bit more about her last days and hours. She went to a hospice, where family and friends were welcomed. She was attended by most of her extended family. On her last day, several family members came to sing at various times. So did our pastor’s wife, Leanell, whom Esther love to hear sing. Someone rolled her bed out onto the back porch, where she could feel, she said, the soft spring rain on her face.

The Echoes of Grace, the gospel choir she and her husband sang in, came to sing for her as well. As they were unpacking the electronic piano, her son Kevin noticed she had stopped breathing. Someone said that they needed some music, and so the Echoes of Grace choir sang three songs as she saw, no doubt, ‘bright angels waiting to receive her:’

I want to live a Christian here,
I want to die a-shouting.
I want to feel my Savior near,
While soul and body’s parting.
I want to see bright angels stand
And waiting to receive me,
To bear my soul to Canaan’s land,
Where Christ has gone before me.
–Words to New Harmony.

Her husband, Eldon was, in fact, much consoled–so much so that he sang in the choir as they repeated the songs for us on Saturday.

So, how to die well: be faithful for a long time, sing much, make many different friends, use hospice. There were elements of chance/grace in all this: her illness was one that lent itself to dying so, and the family had fair warning. Still, I was deeply moved by the longtime faithfulness of Esther.

(A short note for fellow shape note singers: Esther learned to read music using the seven-shape system that the 1963 Mennonite Hymnbook was printed in–although she would have learned to sing earlier than that. She and Eldon did come to part of the Kalamazoo Annual Sacred Harp singing, and they enjoyed it.)


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