To Have & To HoldFebruary 1, 2018
I was there when he took his last breath. His name is Doug and at some point over the last nearly twenty years, he became family to me. The details of those years don’t matter to you, but they included a souped-up golf cart, Joy’s House, family meals, a really cool Harley, a backhoe and lots of other heavy machinery. Doug was a guy’s guy. He’s the guy that you called for…well, just about anything from a flat tire to setting off fireworks to moving day to digging a basement to moving deep snow. He was a lot of things to a lot of people. But he was always your guy.
I was there when he took his last breath. Knowing that he was dying was tough, but being there when he was dying was absolutely beautiful.
When Phyllis, his fiancé, called me on Doug’s last day of life, she told me to hurry because he was transitioning. When I got to the house, his mom, dad and other family and friends were there…preparing. I went to the bedroom to see him. By his head, Phyllis had placed a cross that I had given to him a week prior at the hospital. I told him that I was remiss that I had not asked to pray with him that day and Phyllis gently said, “It’s not too late.” And so the three of us held hands, Doug’s hand in ours, and we prayed. We prayed for love. We prayed for redemption. We prayed for transition and peace.
When we were done, I remembered that I had their marriage ceremony on my computer. So I ran to my car to get it. When I came back in, Doug’s mom and dad and everyone were gathered around Doug in the bed. Phyllis was lying cradled around him and even his beloved dog joined us at one point, placing her paws up on her dad’s legs.
We passed around the cross, each taking a moment to hold it and pray and then passed it on to the next. We opened in prayer, sharing, John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish
but should have eternal life.”
I encouraged them both to look inside their hearts to think about the life that had led them to that day. And after a moment, asked them to stop to realize that nothing compares to the two of them together. I said, “You are natural together. You have a beautiful way of bringing out the best in each other and while I know this isn’t how you planned your marriage, this is the way that it was always supposed to be – at this very moment. God had today planned for you all along.”
Phyllis then took the cross and placed it in Doug’s hand and put her hand over his. I asked, “Do you Phyllis, take Doug, to be your beloved spouse, knowing in your heart that you will be a faithful friend, and a loving companion all of your days and moments of life?”
Without hesitation, she said, “I do.” I asked the same of Doug.
Knowing that he couldn’t respond, I looked him in the eyes and told him that I knew he would say, “I do” if he could. After the vows, I shared a poem.
I Choose You
To be no other than yourself,
Loving what I know of you,
And trusting who you will become.
I will respect and honor you
Always and in all ways.
With you I pledge to repair
One small piece of the world.
I take you to be my spouse,
To have and to hold,
In tears and in laughter,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
From this day forward,
In this world and the next.
At that point, I told them that if there had been any power legally vested in me, it was at that time that I would have pronounced them man and wife. I heard echoes of the sentiment in the room – things like “you’ve been married in my heart for years” and “that’s good enough for me.”
And then Doug dropped his head to one side. Many of us left the room, leaving Phyllis, his mom, dad and stepmom behind and within minutes, he was gone.
There will never be any words to describe the privilege it was to pray with him at the very end of his life…and that commitment ceremony…I really think he was waiting for that. I am honored to have known Doug for the last twenty years. But there is something indescribable about being there at the end of his life, about loving him at his most vulnerable. He was surrounded by pure love. I can only wish that we all feel that intensity if not at the end of our lives, at least just once.