on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

A Good Death

This post is the twenty-sixth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.  He died 12 years ago on Memorial Day, May 26, 1998.

It had been a long night with little sleep as the sun began to rise on Memorial Day in 1998.  My stepmom had come into the bedroom several times where I was sitting next to my father.  She apologized for not being able to relieve me as she knew it would not be long before my father died.  It was too hard for her emotionally to sit and do nothing.

I reassured her that she was the one who had done the hard work over the last four years.

She was the one who had gotten up with him at 2:30 a.m. when he was confused and thought it was time for breakfast day after day.  She would respond with a smile and say, “Lewis, if you want to have breakfast right now, we will get up and have breakfast.”  No cereal for him, only a hot breakfast.

It was my stepmom who had given him baths, and made sure that he took his medicine correctly every single day.  She was the one who drove him to weekly doctors’ appointments that she lovingly referred to as their “social calendar.”  She was the one who made sure he had healthy nutrition and all the love a man could want.

“It’s ok, Jimmie,” I said.  “You come in and out of this room anytime.  This is where I want to be.  I’ll do this part.  Thank you for all that you have already done,” I added.

I put my head on my father’s chest and began to slowly recite the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .”

And in the moment I said the word “death,” he stopped breathing.  It startled me and I sat up.

I remembered what the hospice nurse had taught me the day before that often when a person is close to death, he or she will stop breathing and then after a few seconds will start breathing again.  Sometimes this will repeat a few times before the last breath is taken over several minutes.

I lay my head back on his chest and continued.

And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil, my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I encouraged and coached him as best I could, “It’s ok Daddy for you to go to be with Jesus.  We will be ok here.  You go, it’s ok.”

And then, it was so.  And there was peace, an amazing beautiful peace.

I was thankful there was no more confusion, no more weakness, and no more struggle.

My father had taught me so many lessons with his life.

And now he was teaching a new lesson in how to have a good death.

I am thankful for Lewis Marler’s life and death.


My father taught me so.


What about for you?  Have you ever had witnessed a good death of someone you loved?  What was the difference for you?  How did this impact your grief in the months ahead?  Will you share in the comments below?  (If you do not see the comments, click on the title of this post and scroll to the bottom.)


  1. Wes Ellis

    Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of my beautiful mother’s death–at age 93. She had been a widow for 60 years. My minister father died in 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, leaving my mother to raise her six small children alone. I regret that I was not with her when she died, but was at her side within minutes of the call from the nursing home. I treasure every minute I had with her during the last few years of her long life.
    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to your father.
    Wes Ellis

  2. Jackie Powell

    I appreciate so much getting to know your father through your writings. This last entry about your father, “A Good Death” was one I had experienced when my mother died May 18, 2009. The day she died, her room became a spiritual place as she edged closer to Heaven, God and Jesus. Her large family, biological and stepfamily, were gathered in her room. She became radiant, and wrinkles fell away as she let go of this world. I felt she looked so much like I remembered her as a child. She was beautiful. I had never been with someone as they were dying. Since that day, I, too, can face my last day with confidence and peace.
    Thanks so much for sharing about your father’s last day. Please keep writing.
    Another on the journey,
    Jackie Powell

  3. Malcolm

    Hey Jackie, thanks for sharing about your mother’s death and your time with her. It is a transforming experience isn’t it?

    I’ll start back writing again, I promise, thanks.

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