To Life and All Its Tragic Beauty

o-eric-schmitt-matzen-570Last night, I read an article about Eric Schmitt-Matzen whose long white beard and large frame makes him a shoo-in for playing Santa.  Eric received a call from a nurse at the local hospital saying that a terminally ill five year-old boy was not doing well and had a last wish to see Santa.  So, he went to the hospital and granted the boy’s wish.  After a brief discussion about going to heaven, the boy died in his arms.  I couldn’t help but weep in hearing this story.

 

Having the boy die in his arms understandably made a wreck of Eric.  He had so many mixed emotions about holding this young child’s lifeless body in his arms that it wreaked havoc on him.  Even four years as an Army Ranger could not prepare him for this event.  I can certainly relate from holding the body of a three year-old in my arms after he drowned.

 

When I was working as a hospice chaplain, I would often kneel at the bedside of dying patients and hold their hands and pray with them.  Many times, the patient was not coherent because of the amounts of morphine they had to take to ease their pain and family would be gathered at the bedside keeping vigil.  I can recall one particular time especially when I was holding a patient’s hand and had my other hand on his chest as I gave him a blessing and said prayers with the family.  At some point I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the slow and belabored rise and fall of his chest and I opened one eye to look at him.  I noticed the rest of the family was looking at me and then back to the patient.

 

I was mortified.  I was sure this family would hate me for the rest of their lives and blame me for letting their dad, grandpa, husband die.  I was at a loss for words and trying to think of something to say quickly when his daughter said through silent tears: “That was beautiful.  I can’t think of a more peaceful way to go.  That’s exactly what he wanted.”  I let out a sigh of relief over the lump in my throat and quietly thanked God.  I would have six more similar experiences in my time in hospice and came not to see them as horrific experiences, but instead as things of beauty.

 

I hope that Eric can, and maybe he already has, come to see that young boy’s passing in his arms as the precious thing that it was.  Yes, it was terribly unfortunate that the little boy had to die so young and it was incredibly sad, but if he had to go, I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way.
Whether we have the heavy, yet great honor of shepherding someone through their transition from life to the arms of God, or observe any other event that could be seen as trying, it would serve us well to look for the beauty in it.  Life isn’t easy and neither is death, but there is always a mysterious element of grace that sits right within the border of tragedy and harmony –  if only we have eyes to see it.
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