Category Archives: death

A prayer for my friend.

A dear, almost lifelong friend of mine passed from earthly life last night, on the feast of St. Brendan the Navigator. I found comfort in praying for him the Akathist to Jesus Christ for a Loved One Who has Fallen Asleep. Every phrase of the prayer is full of meaning, but something about the following section made me want to share it.

It makes reference to the “soul stripped bare.” This image follows from the fact that the soul and the body are aspects of a whole person, made in God’s image and designed to be a unity; and when you think about how the soul and the body have never had to be fully separated before death, it seems natural that the soul, no matter how pure, should grieve at this loss.

We don’t think of the body as a shell from which our soul ultimately emerges — our bodies are us, and they are temples of God at the same time, in which we worship. If at the end of our lives our Lord takes our spirits from our bodies, it is not because they aren’t precious. They will be resurrected at the end of time.

O Thou Who wast crucified for us and Who for us wast tormented: Stretch forth Thy hand from Thy Cross and with the drops of Thy poured-forth blood wipe away his sins without a trace; and with Thy beautiful nakedness warm his soul, now stripped bare and orphaned:

Jesus, Thou didst know his life from birth and didst love him.
Jesus, Thou didst see him from afar from the height of Thy Cross.
Jesus, suffering painfully on the Cross, Thou didst stretch forth to embrace him as he came from afar.
Jesus, Thou didst cry out for his forgiveness on blood-stained Golgotha.
Jesus, Thou didst in grievous torments meekly die for him.
Jesus, Who didst suffer to be laid in the tomb, sanctify his repose in the grave.
Jesus, Risen, raise up to the Father his soul which was embittered by the world and saved by Thee.
Jesus, All-merciful Judge, vouchsafe Thy servant the sweetness of Paradise.

From The Akathist to Jesus Christ for a Loved One who has Fallen Asleep

Whistling and waiting for you.


Though he, that ever kind and true,
Kept stoutly step by step with you,
Your whole long, gusty lifetime through,
Be gone a while before,
Be now a moment gone before,
Yet, doubt not, soon the seasons shall restore
Your friend to you.

He has but turned the corner—still
He pushes on with right good will,
Through mire and marsh, by heugh and hill,
That self-same arduous way—
That self-same upland, hopeful way,
That you and he through many a doubtful day
Attempted still.

He is not dead, this friend—not dead,
But in the path we mortals tread
Got some few, trifling steps ahead
And nearer to the end;
So that you too, once past the bend,
Shall meet again, as face to face, this friend
You fancy dead.

Push gaily on, strong heart! The while
You travel forward mile by mile,
He loiters with a backward smile
Till you can overtake,
And strains his eyes to search his wake,
Or whistling, as he sees you through the brake,
Waits on a stile.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

“Heugh” is a steep crag or cliff with overhanging sides.

Pippin Photo – Warner Mountains of California

Mael Mhedha of the dark brows.

Just now I read a newsletter from a Touchstone Magazine editor, on the subject of marriage. He included this quite old poem which conveys the feelings that a person might have, after the death of one’s spouse. Having lived that way of existence, the state of being one flesh with one’s spouse, as the Bible describes it, and then losing it… The poet graphically describes, in the most evocative metaphors, what the loss means, from his crown to his feet. He’s lost his grip on his own body.


My soul parted from me last night.
In the grave, a pure dear body.
A kind, refined soul was taken
from me, a linen shroud about her….

Mael Mhedha of the dark brows,
my cask of mead at my side;
my heart, my shadow split from me,
flowers’ crown, planted, now bowed down.

My body’s gone from my grip
and has fallen to her share,
my body’s splintered in two,
since she’s gone, soft, fine and fair.

One of my feet she was, one side—
like the whitethorn was her face—
our goods were never ‘hers’ and ‘mine’—
one of my hands, one of my eyes.

Half my body, that young candle—
it’s harsh, what I’ve been dealt, Lord.
I’m weary speaking of it:
she was half my very soul.

My first love, her great soft eye,
ivory-white and curved her breast,
neither her fair flesh nor her side
lay near another man but me.

We were twenty years together.
Our speech grew sweeter each year.
She bore me eleven children,
the tall young long-fingered tree.

Though I am, I do not thrive
since my proud hazel-nut fell,
Since my great love parted from me,
the dark world’s empty and bare.

Dear the soft hand which was here,
King of the churches and bells.
Och! that hand never swore false oath.
Sore, that it’s not under my head.

—Muireadhach Albanach O Dalaigh, c. 1224
Translated from Gaelic in The Triumph Tree 

Howard Pyle, The Wonder Clock

Dark forms yearning upward.


Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

– Linda Pastan

Birch Trees by Lahle Wolfe