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I profess not to be any great writer.

These are the ponderings

of a poor man's mind.

  • Nate Barker

Facing Death

Updated: May 2

Back in 1999. As a 24-year-old...this is what I was working on.

There she was. Cold. Laid out. Finger nails turning blue. Eyes closed in a sleep that would take her body and turn it to dust but release her soul to eternity. "Death has an aspect of messiness to it…" I heard someone say in an interview. But for now there lay the regal, strong, and upright woman I had known as Nana, turning cold as the bright July sun shone in the open window.

I was surprised at my callousness as I stood at the foot of the bed watching my parents weep openly. Had I not just seen my only living grandmother pass on? Her breathing low and shallow right to the end, and then the rise and fall of her chest stopped in an eternal instant. Maybe it was the fact that I knew it was such a relief for her to be gone from her pain, or maybe it had been the stories I had heard in the past weeks. Stories of people not afraid of the unknown realm of death. Stories of people with faith.

Over the past few months I had been sitting in living rooms, standing by porch swings, and looking over homemade caskets as I conducted interviews for a video on one of the two things that you can't avoid in life. And it wasn't taxes.

Granted, working on this project didn't quite suit my taste at first. I was only 24. What did I know, or care, about an event that my head told me would never happen but my intellect subtly told me I could not avoid? Everyone that puts death from their mind, eventually returns to dwelling on the emotions again.


In the cool confines of a summer basement, stacked one on top of the other like long loaves of baked bread, are two identical caskets. A 90-year-old man, with craftsman hands, and his smiling son stand telling me the story of how, "Dad just got an idea." And there lay those ideas, one on top of the other, the caskets he had made for himself and his wife. The air of the interview was surprisingly fresh and jokes were dropping. "Now dad," said the son, "which-ever one of you goes first we're just going to use the top casket. They're too heavy to dig out the bottom one."

I laughed along wondering how this family had come to openly joke about an event that most people fear, literally with their lives. What had these individuals found that had given them the peace and freedom regarding the end of life?


We live in a society that teaches us to hang onto life as the one thing we can truly believe in. We're taught to value the body more than anything else. To diet it, exercise it, walk it, keep it clean, keep it beautiful, clip it, trim it, liposuction it, vitamin it, feed it, keep it from aging. Surrounding us are beautiful supermodels and "life saving" herbal remedies that create walls of false hopes. Feebly and half heartedly we try to scale their heights but eventual we just learn to lean against them for support.

A constant crush of advertisements, free samples, and lifetime memberships make our minds spin so fast that we feel we must try them all in order not to miss the one true thing that might work. So lives and money are spent in reaching for the unattainable goal of eternal youth. We think the fountain may exist in a bottled drink or a diet shake, but neither really satisfy as promised by the skinny and healthy-looking model on the front of the can.


A young mother sits at a picnic table on her back porch singing "Happy nine-and-a-half to you!" to her daughter. Since her bout with breast cancer three years ago, she has done everything possible to celebrate life. Even instituting half birthdays. Her husband and son sing along while my cameraman and I look on with smiles. It's hard to imagine this family minus one member.

They admit to me that three years ago the thought of loosing their mother and wife was a saddening one, and at times scary. But now they speak of death as if it were part of life, in fact saying just that. Death was, and is, a reality to them; a continuation of life. Facing it and surviving it has given to them a peace. A peace that allows them to put hope in the future.


We never speak of our own deaths as young people with young families. It's taboo. We're too busy watching our children grow and putting together a safe and stable environment that we hope they'll feel comfortable enough bringing their dates home to. We're too busy with life to worry or think about death. In fact we try to steer clear of it, just concentrating on what's comfortable. It seems like a good plan until that comfort zone is broken into.

Once again society has taught us to, "remain calm" and "not worry about it till it happens." But looking ahead to our own death and coming to peace with it can be a releasing experience. Knowing that our faith will sustain us and that our Lord will carry us through to his presence can give even more reasons to the young to rejoice in life.


"I trust my death…to the same God I trust my life to," said the hospice worker seated across from me. Sitting on her back patio I look into the eyes of a woman who has seen the joys and sorrows that have accompanied dozens of deaths. Smiling she tells me that when a person can die at home "they're much more comfortable just to sit and look out the window at the birds in the yard, or be with their family."

She tells me stories of families brought together by a death of a mother or father. Families patching old wounds that have kept them separated for years. "We define healing too narrowly," she says. And I see she's right. The healing that surrounds death is much more than just the curing or death of the sick family member.


Others I speak to while producing this video possess that same harmony with death. The stories of peace that I have collected seem to help me somehow by knowing that there are people who can look at the end of their lives and trust the Lord and his grace. So while my own grandmother began to slip I was ready for what I saw, heard, and felt as I stood by her bedside in the final moments of her earthly life. In fact I knew it wasn't an opportunity to be passed up. To be part of the celebration of a passing on. To wish someone a fond farewell as they travel to a richer and more wonderful place.

Deciding that this story needed to be told along with the others I drove the long eight hour trip home. As I traveled I thought about the struggles and fears that my parents must be going through. Caring for an aging mother, seeing her deteriorate each day, remembering the strong independent woman she used to be.

The interviews went well as we sat and chatted about what they were experiencing and feeling. Even in the midst of this I saw the peace in their eyes and heard the reassurance from their voices. An occasional tear, a quick smile, many stories and memories later we finished our talk and returned to my grandmother's bright room around five in the afternoon. Cards and pictures hung in crowds on the walls and spilled over the dressers, evidence of sympathy and support that stood in silent vigil over the sleeping woman.

We talked to her, telling her it was okay to let go. Reassuring her that we will all be fine and she will be too. And as if to respond, she stops breathing at 5:50 p.m.. An old woman gone home. There were tears of sadness, but also of joy. Her suffering had come to an end and my parents' relief had come at last. And now I stand there with the voices in my head of people who had shared their found peace with me, a peace that wraps itself around us in the very room where my grandmother lays. They tell me she's with her Lord, in peace and comfort. Looking at her still face, I sense their faith and hers bringing her home in peace.

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Nate, is the video you produced available for viewing? Connie Zehr


Yes...I have a copy of it. I will get it to you sometime soon.



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