A Dust Devil Special

i was at a death today.

one lady who died & came back

to life

told me she felt weightless

when she died,

said it was the best feeling

she had ever had.

she has never been afraid

to die since.

i was ready to die

in that moment

with her.

some say we begin dying

the minute we're born.

others say there's no such thing

as death.

i've been to deaths at every hour.

3 a.m. sucks for me.

but i'd rather see people die

in their homes

than in a hospital.

i trained in a hospital,

a level 1 trauma center.

that was scary shit.

people fall off cliffs, get shot,

get hit on scooters,

have random brain aneurisms.

& i'd find myself sitting

with the wife, the son

& the daughter

in the small room

with florescent lights.

the other chaplains & i

shared oodles of youtube videos

with each other that year.

vids like miniature goats

jumping for joy.

& people popping huge pimples

in the mirror.

i've wheeled bodies down

to the morgue,

said many a prayer over dead

& sometimes messy


i'd rather be around death

in hospice

than death in the trauma bay.

death tricks the mind

when you first witness

the body stop


it's like being outside in the bright sun

& running into a cave.

you still see the sun until your eyes adjust.

death is slipping into the same room

you're already in,

while most everyone else

thinks you left the house.

people cry when someone they love dies.

no water is holier than tears.

people feel shocked & deny

their loved one is dead.

once a lady pounced on her mom,

swearing that she was still breathing,

after the nurse listened

closely with a stethoscope.

some people lose their god along

with their loved one

bc they never imagined god would

allow such a thing to happen.

a colleague chaplain of mine

called to offer chaplain support to a family

& the man interrupted, "we don't believe in god."

the chaplain responded, "that's fine,

some days i don't either."

people tell stories.

my friend prays that god holds all of the stories

we forget.

i told him she does

bc they change who we are

when we hear them.

people share their regrets.

mostly people wish they would have

treated each other better.

people laugh.

another colleague of mine was

with a lady who lost her husband.

she was crying & showing the chaplain

pics of her family

on her ipad.

she swiped to a picture of herself butt-naked.

there was an awkward silence

until they both busted

into laughter.

the lady ends with,

"god, i really needed that."

people get angry.

if you don't have a god you can be angry with,

it might be time to get a new one.

people punch walls & throw chairs.

space is important for grieving people.

people give thanks.

all some families want to say to their dead loved one

is "thank you."

people remain silent.

i sat in silence for 30 minutes

straight with nothing to say.

when i was leaving she said,

"thank you for being with me."

people play music.

i once became a DJ for a family

soon after a death.

took song requests for an hour

as they cried & sang,

holding onto their loved one's body.

people request prayer & ritual.

one lady took her closing breath

as i said the closing prayer.

one man died when the priest administered the sacrament.

the on-call nurse left report that

"the priest anointed the pt as he died,

& the pt went straight to heaven!"

how someone dies may tell you

how those standing around

are living.

how you die influences

those who witness it.

it seems like not being

too attached to living

or dying

allows one to live

& die more peacefully.

morphine helps a lot too.

what if you die to dying,

& when your time comes

it's just another moment?

some people believe in a literal fairytale


a dying nun once told me if i wear

the scapular

around my neck

i'll go to heaven when i die.

she called it my passport

to heaven.

she looked at me strange

when i stuffed it in my shirt

pocket instead of

putting it around my neck.

her savior says heaven

is within me.

why is she trying to sell me

what i already have?

a man once said, "pray for me

to accomplish

what i need to accomplish

to get to heaven."

i told him, "there's nothing to accomplish

to get to heaven."

some tell sacred stories with creativity

that sound like fairytales.

i call them mystics.

death is a mystery & not a mystery.

the body continues,

whether it decomposes

or is cremated & spread.

our spirit goes on & on

& on & on & on &

the last breath is not the end.

we become a part of each other

each time we meet.

the mystery is in the details.

once a guest speaker said,

"when you stop laughing

& you stop crying,

then you're in trouble."

once the phone rang

& the pt's wife

stepped out of the room,

where i sat with the pt

& his son.

his wife came back in the room

& the pt & her son were crying.

she looked directly at me & asked,

"what did you do to them?"

the pt, the son & i

all started laughing.

then we told her

what her husband said

& she cried.

"i won a nobel prize

for creating a new type of technology,

but there is no greater prize

than the prize of life."

— adam t. smith

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