An old man is dying in a dark, fetid room. His daughter is with him, in her kindness, praying and holding his hand, though he was a harsh and bitter man all his life and abused her and abused his wife. He had been in combat in a war and maybe that was it, but now he is dying in a dark, fetid room and he is rigid in his narrow, little bed, shaking, hands clenched, and his daughter is with him.
When I come to read the Psalms to him he seems to recognize the rhythm of the words and how one line is parallel to the next and this seems to soothe him for a while. He doesn’t shake as much. His eyes stop darting back and forth beneath the stony lids.
And later, after I leave, he opens his eyes. He seems to focus for a moment. He seems to look through the darkness at his daughter, and he says two words to her, in a faint, croaking voice: You bitch.
Who knows what this man was thinking or what he was seeing. Maybe he wasn’t talking to his daughter, maybe he was talking to Death, but this is what he says, you bitch, and this is what his daughter does. She rises from that chair, and she leans over that bed, and she whispers in her father’s ear: Daddy, I love you. And that night, he died.
Love is a great emptying out and losing. Love is a rising from a chair. It is a leaning over a bed. It is a whisper in a room and a word in a room.
The last thing this man ever said was vulgar and angry and mean. But this wasn’t the last thing he ever heard.
*from my Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness, and Seeing God in Everything, just published this month by Eerdmans Publishing.