Editor’s Note: “Too melancholy,” I said to myself as I did something I rarely do: sent this column back to Gloria for some major revisions. “I want to hear more about how your grandpa lived and less about how he died,” I told her. Throughout my 25 years visiting Amish settlements I’ve gotten a glimpse of how the Amish handle death, and what many might see as bleakness is actually simply acceptance and in some cases, joy. I’ve seen Amish write whole pages of poetry devoted to a person’s final days in graphic detail. I’ve visited Amish funerals where the parents lift their toddler children up so they can view the deceased in the casket, something that some outsiders might question, but for the Amish it is an early lesson that death is simply part of life. Gloria gently suggested that if I view this column through a cultural context it gives a different picture, it isn’t simply about mourning a loss, but celebrating and observing a new beginning. So this column with its singing, prayer, praise, and comforting food for the bereaved is all an important part of the life-death process among the Amish.
— Kevin Williams, Editor
February brings special memories of grandpa. A year ago we were savoring our final moments with Dawdy (grandpa) knowing that his days were rapidly winding to a close. We celebrated his 80th birthday on Feb. 18, only four days later the following events occurred.
It was 3 p.m. when we received the message that Dawdy was very low. Daniel and I decided to join more of the aunts, uncles, and cousins who had gathered at his bedside. Upon arriving we slipped in the back door. I met grandma in the kitchen and we wept silently in each others arms. Then we quietly made our way to the living room where Dawdy lay peacefully yet breathing heavily. It took all the strength he had to simply draw another breath yet his mind seemed to be crystal clear.
Grandpa had always enjoyed singing so everyone gathered by his bedside where we all stood singing to him through our tears. We grieved to see Dawdy leaving us yet rejoiced on his behalf knowing how excited he was to go to Heaven. My heart overflowed with awe and wonder as I thought of Dawdy going to be with Jesus, my Lord and King.
Between songs we took turns bidding Dawdy goodbye and expressing words of appreciation. Tears flowed freely as farewells were spoken releasing Dawdy. It was not easy yet too precious for words. Time and again Dawdy made attempts to respond to what was said. Once dad pieced together what he was trying to say and repeated it back to him, “To God be the glory.” Grandpa nodded with the wee bit of strength that remained. That was just like grandpa had always been, his entire life was an endeavor to do the will of God, giving Him the glory.
A few hours passed as we kept singing, reading comforting Bible verses, and weeping together. In the meanwhile, Hospice had come, giving him pain medicine. Later one of my cousins told me how they arrived at 5:15 and noticed various horses and buggies tied up here and there as well as bikes scattered, several having school lunches still attached. It was obvious that everyone was in a rush to go see Dawdy.
By 5:30 his breathing was becoming increasingly difficult as his oxygen kept dropping. We tightened our circle around his Hospice bed. Julia and I knelt by his feet while Daniel held Austin. Both Julia and I tenderly put our hands on his feet as we continued singing through our tears. I kept echoing the prayer Dawdy had often prayed for, that he would not need to suffer prior to his death. By this time at least 40 family members were gathered around his bed.
As the sun was setting and we were singing of our life on earth ending and entering Heaven, Dawdy took his last breath. Truly this was the sunset of his life and the sunrise of his home in heaven.
Later grandma related how Dawdy kept squeezing his hands until the very last moments.
Death has taken a new meaning to me since then. There was no agony, no fight, no need for any fear. In the months prior to his death Dawdy spoke freely of his time on earth ending which helped prepare us for this day.
Now here we were, grandpa had just passed away. Even though food did not seem of great significance most people were getting hungry. In less than an hour after his passing a couple in church was there with a huge pot of soup, dessert, and hot chocolate for our supper. Deep gratitude for friends who cared filled our hearts. This was the comforting soup that was served.
COMFORTING HAMBURGER RICE SOUP
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 onion, chopped
2 pounds ground beef, browned
4 cups cooked rice
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 teaspoons chicken seasoning
4 cups milk
1 pound Velveeta cheese
2 cups sour cream
Cook vegetables together until soft. Drain. Add to browned meat. Add rice, seasonings, milk, and cheese.
Heat to melt cheese, stirring constantly. When cheese is melted, stir in cream. Do not boil.
Serves 10 to 12.
Readers with culinary or cultural questions or stories can write Gloria directly at Gloria Yoder, 10568 E. 350th Ave., Flat Rock, IL 62427-2019. To see more on the Amish go to www.amish365.com.
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