I was overcome at the moment of Dad’s last breath. Overcome with something so profound and surprising. The words that came from my mouth were the last things one would cognitively say at that moment. The words that bubbled forth amidst the tears were, “You just won Dad, you just won.”
As I go though this new life that carries the grief of death, I’m constantly brought back to that moment, those words. The weight of which my mind does not understand, but my spirit resonates with so strongly. I war with myself over how lost I feel and the bazaar nature of what I said as he died.
Why, at the point of literal death, would I feel that a victory had been won?
When faced with such things, one tends to ponder the thinning paper veil between life and death. The famous play, ‘Wit’ by Margaret Edson explores beautifully the paradox I experienced in the moment my Dad died. The play unpacks John Donne’s Sonnet, ‘Death Be Not Proud’, specifically the punctuation of the last line. The character, E.M Ashford explains:
It reads “And death be no more” comma “death, thou shalt die.” Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting…Very simple, really. With the original punctuation restored Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It’s a comma. A pause.
Donne’s poem paints death in the light of life everlasting. As ludicrous as this notion is, I must say, I believe it. For many thoughtful, intelligent, studied and experienced reasons I believe it. It’s a deep mystery. I don’t know what it looks like or how it all works exactly. My faith is a constant wrestle. Particularly now that I’m trying to work out the meaning of death, I find my faith morphing into unexpected shapes. But despite the struggle, it remains true, that the words that came forth in me at the precise moment of utter loss, were words that held such irony and mystery. Words that I could not make up in the face of such tragedy.
These words came not from me, but from a profound truth, that as a Christ follower I can say…In the end, it’s eternal life that is victorious over death.
Life, death, soul, God, past, present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma.