Singing Him Home

March 21, 2011 | 22 comments

We stand in a half-moon around his bed, as the white sheet rises and falls with each slow breath.

They say the hearing is the last thing to go, so we gather bedside to sing the old farmer Home. He’s a bachelor. His sister, never married, took care of him all these years after their mama died. They’ve made a home, a simple home, in a square farmhouse where sunlight spills over Bibles and threadbare couches.

In a way, we’re family — this ragtag choir with hymnals open and lumps in throats.

Eighty-six years in all. That’s how long Selmer’s been walking toward the exit Home. And he’s almost there.

Lucky guy, I think. Only I don’t believe in “luck,” but still …

His eyes are open, cutting holes through a ceiling, and I wonder what he sees. I look up, too, hoping to steal a shared glimpse of what captivates him so. Maybe this is the final earthly grace of God, a Father who perhaps grants us a vision of what lies beyond the exit before we step through the door?

The old farmer is dying, and yet he is a holy marvel. He is a portrait of grace in a breathing body, heart beating but slowing, and he is showing us what it means to live and then to leave. This is a sacramental moment. We partake, one body, singing with cradled hymnals. And even the men among us cry. How can we not?

He listens, with his eyes stayed on the invisible.

Just as I am Without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidst me come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

His twin brother, a widower named Helmer, unfolds himself from his chair to stand tall, and sing the bass line strong and loud.
No hymnal required.

I wonder: what would it feel like to say goodbye to someone with whom you shared a womb, a life?

The sister is here, too. Hazel folds her hands in her lap and sings every word. She doesn’t need a hymnal either.

They know all the words, because they know all the words. These songs are the soundtrack of their lives. These are the songs that have withstood centuries, bound in books and hearts, and they belong to Helmer and Selmer and sister Hazel. And they belong to us — even us, the ones who often worship with Tomlin and TobyMac.

Trish asks: Do you have any requests?

Hazel says he always liked “Children of the Heavenly Father.” I smile, remembering
how this one is his twin’s favorite, too.

We turn to 474 to sing a special request.

“Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in his bosom gather;
Nestling bird or star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.”

Five days later, Selmer went Home.

And tomorrow — second day of spring — we’ll gather graveside while the birds nestle in the Norway spruce, all of them singing end-of-winter songs. And we’ll sing his lullaby once more, in honor of a life well-lived and well-invested in the things of God. And our voices will rise from a hallowed ground.

On and on it goes: This endless cycle of living and loving
and leaving.

We sang him Home, and
we’re all singing our way Home,
and we know the Way Home:

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

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by | March 21, 2011 | 22 comments

22 Comments

  1. Nancy

    Thank you for inviting us here, to this holy place. I love stories of old saints who know all the words because they've lived all the words. All the way home.

    Reply
  2. Beth E.

    Beautiful…praying for Selmer's family.

    Reply
  3. Lyla Lindquist

    One of ours headed home a few days ago as well. Perhaps around the same moment.

    Her send-off is this morning.

    I expect they know all the same songs.

    Reply
  4. Missie

    What a beautiful way to send him home!

    Reply
  5. Julie

    Oh Jennifer you brought tears to my eyes this morning.

    Just this morning, heaven ushered another angel home here too. A dear lady who gave so much to our little church and so much to God. I bet the music on the other side of Heaven is beyond any words here on earth.

    Reply
  6. Jo-Ann

    Such a beautiful story. Last week a lovely saint from our flock went home too and we sang the old songs of the faith as she had requested — words so meaningful — words to live by.

    Reply
  7. Shaunie @ Up the Sunbeam

    "what it means to live and then to leave." This is so beautiful Jennifer. Reminds me of my friend Fran and how hymns got through to her when every other part of her mind was gone, and how I couldn't be sad, except for me, when she made her final exit into glory! Reminded me of my Grandma too who saw through a window to "home." Grace, grace!! Thank you for sharing Selmer and Helmer and Hazel with us–we are richer for seeing them through your eyes.

    Reply
  8. Laura

    Oh, Jennifer. Such a lovely sending. That angel choir that received him could not have sounded sweeter to him than the voices of those he loves raised high together on his behalf. What a privilege. What a joy to join you there.

    Reply
  9. patty

    Reading this, Psalm 116:15 comes to mind: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants."
    I imagine Him smiling over you all in that room on that hallowed ground welcoming His dear one home. Beautiful piece…

    Reply
  10. Jeanne Damoff

    What a privilege for you and all those invited into this holy place. In a very real sense it's like witnessing birth — as intimate, mysterious, sacred — and Selmer entered a new world in a new body, and all is made new.

    What a gift to Helmer and Hazel. What a gift to all of you. Today there's a phrase burning in my spirit — has been there all morning and I keep repeating it to myself as though saying the words will unlock the meaning behind this persistence. "Remember what you have seen. Remember what you have seen. Remember what you have seen." Perhaps it is in part for you, Jennifer. Remember what you have seen, and what you haven't as well. Oh, the glory.

    Much love,
    Jeanne

    Reply
  11. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    I love that, Jeanne — The remembering what we have seen … AND what we have not seen. We've much to look forward to. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Kay @ Off the Beaten Path

    A beautiful moment. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
  13. Linda

    Sweet Jennifer. I simply have no words.
    I would like to ask if you would teach me to write. You make such beauty with your words.

    Reply
  14. Rod and Jean B

    Thank you for the beautiful post as made it almost like was there singing along to one that has been a family friend.

    Made me think of the words in Borning Cry ….I'll be there to guide you through the night,
    complete what I've begun.
    When the evening gently closes in,
    and you shut your weary eyes,
    I'll be there as I have always been
    with just one more surprise….

    Reply
  15. Sandra Heska King

    I am hushed.

    We see dimly but then face to face.

    Reply
  16. Thoughts for the day

    Oh my this reminds me of last May when we sang my 'mom' inlaw home. She wanted all the family there, and we sang and prayed and she said 'the angels are here' and the dogs growled, and barked on occasion. It was a long 'few days' till she left us. But the observance of a sweet saint going home was priceless and our hearts hurt as we said goodbye. It was very 'different' to have the dogs yip or growl as they looked above her I do believe they saw or felt the angels presence. We don't go home alone.

    Reply
  17. amy

    oh this is so beautiful jennifer. so beautiful. this is how i want it. may i live a life worthy…

    Reply
  18. elizabeth

    Beautiful post Jennifer.

    Reply
  19. Shirl

    Having just gone through this with my mother, this post is especially poignant. About two weeks before Mom died, her voice barely audible, she sang to me What a Day That Will Be. It was the last song played during her funeral service, and how it blessed me to hear people sitting behind me in the chapel start joining in to sing the song…softly, but they sang and so did I. You've inspired me to want to write about this experience myself. Beautiful story, as always.

    Reply
  20. bluecottonmemory

    Beautiful – this going home can be all because of hearts like Selmer and his family. So wonderful to be there to help him go to the otherside! That's what the going should be like!

    Reply
  21. mari mayborn

    Jennifer, What peace and beautiful expectancy is there, sharing time with someone so close to seeing our Father face-to-face.

    Not long ago, I spent an evening with a lovely saint in her 80's who knows her body will soon succumb to the cancer within. She was radiant with peace and expectancy–she, too, is a true hymn-singer who 'knows' the words. They are a part of her, too.

    "Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word…And I know that He is with me, He'll be with me to the end." How sweet to gaze toward that heavenly door. Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing us into the circle of souls singing Selmer home.

    Reply
  22. Connie@raise your eyes

    Oh Jennifer, what a precious gift you've given us in sharing Selmer's passing…I loved reading the comments of others singing 'em home also.

    As a dear 95 year old friend, blind on this earth was passing, she said,"Oh the infinite universe!"

    Reply

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