psychopomp (n.) A spirit, deity, person, etc., who guides the souls of the dead to the afterlife.

Last Saturday, I sat in the corner of a hospital room as the family gathered around the bed of their loved one. Clear tubing draped the elderly woman’s frail body, plastic tendrils hanging uneasily from the machines that flanked her. I watched lines of muted red, blue, and yellow slide across the first black screen, their patterns shifting as the numbers on the second black screen went up, then went down.

The doctor entered. His nurse and I were wraiths against the privacy curtain, purposefully unseen yet seeing everything. The doctor gave his prognosis in the gentle, honest, practiced style of the ICU: 48 hours and a zero chance.

After he and the nurse left, the family prayed together. Then they left to discuss private matters in a separate room.

I stood, silently, reverently. I hovered at the woman’s side and looked, for the first time in my life, upon the dying. Her skin was pale and sickly; her cheeks were sunken; her small mouth hung open and was black inside. Taking a deep breath, I leaned in to stroke her smoke-gray hair, and I began to sing.

The time has come; the doors are open.
The stars are shining fierce and bright.
Go, O loved one, to death’s embrace;
May you find peace and joy.

Twice, I sang my prayer, never raising my voice above a whisper. I refrained from the final repetition; I’ll sing it again when I hear about the old woman’s passing. I’ll sing it in full force, letting my voice carry her soul to the gods. And then I’ll write her name in my book of the dead, so that until I die, she can continue to receive the spiritual nourishment that comes from being remembered.

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