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Late at night on a grassy hillside, I sat with two of my daughters watching hundreds of fireworks displays play out over the valley before us. It was the Fourth of July. Although my eyes were taking in the shimmering bursts of color, my mind was mulling over a text message I had received a few hours earlier. My youngest brother had informed me that our eighty-three-year-old father, who had been in a slow decline for several years, had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

With fireworks bursting all around me, I prayed for my father and for my mother—that they would each be able to cope with whatever lay ahead. The thought came to me that as soon as the girls and I returned home I should pack an overnight bag and be available to my parents at a moment’s notice. We hadn’t been home long when I received another text, this one from my oldest son who had stopped to check on his grandparents and was letting me know that my father was almost unresponsive. That was my cue. I said goodbye to the girls, tossed my bag in the car and headed out.

During the thirty minute midnight drive I prayed, blinked back a few tears, and thought of my father. As his memory had begun to fade he had become less and less like the father I had known for so many decades—less communicative, less able to be involved in the lives of his children and grandchildren. My mother and I had discussed on several occasions the fact that we had been gradually grieving the loss of my Dad for years. All seemed quiet at their home when I arrived so I bedded down on one of the living room couches for the night.

For the next forty eight hours we watched over my father—first, as he lay in his own bed, then in the hospital bed which hospice provided to make it easier to care for him. There was a steady stream of visitors: family, neighbors, and other friends who came to say goodbye. On Friday, after Dad was settled and asleep in the new bed, my brother John and I looked at each other across our dying father and John said, “Well, I guess we just keep vigil now.” 

During his last few days, Dad, who mostly seemed to be unconscious, repeatedly lifted his arms as if reaching for someone. At one point, I glanced at him as he reached up yet again, and saw that his eyes were open. When I asked if he was seeing someone, he slowly nodded. As he slipped back into a deep sleep, I sat by his bedside remembering a song I had written sixteen years earlier when his mother was dying.

“We stand in silence

on an earthly shore,

watching as you slowly sail away—

a solitary figure gliding by.

And then, a distant silhouette against a brilliant sky.

Somewhere, you will reach another shore.

Loving arms will help you as you drift into the bay.

You will know you lived there once before,

and you are going home to stay.”

For my father, the end came surprisingly soon. Just after midnight—forty eight hours after I had arrived—John and I were there with Mom to hear Dad’s last labored breaths, then…silence. It felt like a privilege to witness his passing—that quiet release of a spirit from a body grown old. I confess that I glanced upward to try and catch a glimpse of the loved ones my father had been reaching for over the past few days, but I had to be content with the peace that washed over me.

We held his hands and kissed his cheeks—still warm for the moment. Eventually calls were made to my older brothers, and texts sent out to my husband and children, and other relatives and friends. Dad had left this earthly shore. Hours later, I lay by my mother’s side in the bed she had shared with my father for nearly six decades. She had not wanted to sleep alone, and as she finally slipped into a well deserved slumber, I was wide awake, though relaxed and at peace. I marveled at how natural it had seemed for my father to slip away—the time was right. I felt deep gratitude that we had been granted the gift of knowing the end was near in time for the family to come say their goodbyes.

Not every death is so peaceful. Not everyone is a given the chance to live a long, full life. And not every family has the luxury of saying goodbye. But for each soul who departs this life, there will be another shore, and there will be loved ones to ease the passing. As I lay by my sleeping mother, I thanked God for the gift of the Other Shore—that shore which awaits every single traveler who leaves this earthly place—no matter the circumstances of their death.

Once morning came our time was filled with funeral arrangements, phone calls, and accepting generous deliveries of food and flowers. Finally, in the late afternoon, my mother officially kicked me out, saying she would be fine for the night and that I needed to be with my own family. I stopped by the grocery store on my way home to buy a few items for dinner, and at the check out counter the teenaged clerk kindly asked, “So, how was your day?” I thought for a long moment before answering quietly, “It was good.” Less than eighteen hours after my father’s death I could truthfully say the day was good, the circumstances right, and all because of the Other Shore, made possible by the Savior who took the sting out of death.

Another Shore

Words and music by Lynne Perry Christofferson

Vocal by Tanya Barkdull

“We stand in silence

on an earthly shore,

Watching as you slowly sail away—

a solitary figure gliding by.

And then, a distant silhouette against a brilliant sky.

Somewhere, you will reach another shore.

Loving arms will help you as you drift into the bay.

You will know you lived there once before,

And you are going home to stay.

The beach seems lonely now that you are gone.

Such an empty ache remains inside.

A single thought consoles us as we cry:

That you are being welcomed even as we say goodbye.

Somewhere, you will reach another shore.

Loving arms will help you as you drift into the bay.

You will know you lived there once before,

And you are going home to stay.

And though we feel the pain of parting,

as life ends a new one is just starting.

Somewhere, you will reach another shore.

Loving arms will help you as you drift into the bay.

You will know you lived there once before,

And you are going home to stay.”