Reprinted with permission from

All shall be well
All shall be well
All shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well.

Julian of Norwich, late 14th century Christian mystic

It's going to be 0K.
It's going to be 0K.
It's going to be 0K.
Really, it's going to be 0K.

Terry Nelson-Johnson, early 21st century dad.

4 a.m. loud bell ringing. Dream or awake? Telephone or monastery bells? It turned out to be a phone call. No, it turned out to be the phone call. My wife's father had suffered a sudden massive stroke and he was dying; as in dying right now. All regular morning routines were amended, aborted or muted.

Somewhere over Ohio in flight from Chicago to Philadelphia my wife and I tenderly, warily and wearily discussed possible 'saying good-bye to Grandpop' strategies. How does one explain "life support" to a 6 and 9 year old? Better to remember Grandpop as they had last seen him; a robust, blue-jean wearing, tractor riding, joyful, generous and handsome 78 year old? Or is there something to be said for the incarnate...the body? This is how Grandpop is now--quiet, peaceful and hooked up to a lot of amazing blinking machines that have kept him alive and warm so that we can say good-bye to him.

With some trepidation we chose the incarnate/body option. The kids were beautiful. They touched, whispered, cried and kissed. So many decisions to make so suddenly; at least we made one good one...or so we thought.

Clare's nightmares began the night we got home from Philadelphia. Exhausted, both my wife and I made our way in to Clare's room, figuring that between us we might be able to muster up one parent to respond to Clare's cries and whimpers. She couldn't tell us a lot of what was going on but three things were clear: she was scared, her fear had something to do with Grandpop, and she definitely wanted to sleep in our bed. Grateful for a request that we could respond to, I carried her to our bed and laid her down between my wife and myself; just like the good old days, except that in the good old days Grandpop was alive and Clare wasn't having nightmares. No words were spoken but I suspect that, like myself, my wife laid awake on the other side of our daughter anguishing over whether our decision to let Clare touch, whisper to, cry with and kiss Grandpop was a mistake.

The nightmares did not abate quickly and neither did Clare hurry to alter our new sleeping arrangements. I don't remember exactly how long Clare slept in our room, suffice it to say that in lieu of doodling during phone calls at the office I was strategically planning conjugal visits.

One morning Clare and I were having breakfast, just the two of us. Out of the blue, which delightfully is a place Clare comes out of with astonishing regularity, she asked: "Dad, will I be 13 or 15 when I go to college?" "If you go to college you'll probably be around 18."

"In college do you live alone or with somebody else?"

"Usually with somebody else--a roommate."

"Are roommates usually nice or mean?"

"Usually nice, Clare."

"Do you think my roommate will let me sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag next to her bed?"

"I don't know Clare, maybe."

"Dad, when I get married can you live with me?"

"Well Clare, I could, but you probably won't want me to."

"Well if you did live with me after I'm married that would be good because then my husband and I can sleep in our bed and you can sleep on the floor next to our bed in a sleeping bag."

"Why all the questions about sleeping arrangements Clare?"

Putting her spoon down with a hint of fragility, as if to say, "I'm not sure I can answer that" she slid off her chair, climbed up in my lap, buried her face in 'that spot' of my neck and whispered, "I'm scared daddy, bad things happen out there, people die and I don't know when I'll feel safe enough to sleep by myself."

With little thought I did what the situation asked of me as a parent. I held Clare close to me, I patted her back gently with one hand and stroked her hair with the other, I rocked her back and forth slowly and, most importantly, I whispered back to her over and over:

"It's 0K. Clare, it's 0K. Clare... it's going to be 0K. Clare." We held each other quietly for a few minutes after the patting, stroking, rocking and whispering had subsided. Clare slid off my lap, confirmed that I had packed the Kiwi fruit break snack in the 'just right' Tupperware container and headed out the door to wait for the school bus with a hardy, "see ya' after school dad."

Twelve hours later I kissed Clare good night and tucked her in to her own bed. An embarrassingly short time later I kissed my wife good night and tucked myself in to our bed. In those exquisite and brief moments between consciousness and sleep I let my soul pray for the rest of me:

"God, what is it about holding, patting, stroking and whispering that seems to work? Please grant me the privilege of a few more holding, patting, stroking, rocking and whispering sessions. . . sanctuary sessions with my children. When, inevitably the time comes that I am no longer the holder of choice please send people into their lives well versed in the skills of sanctuary--holding, patting, stroking, rocking and whispering. And when I am invited into the ultimate sanctuary, into your ambiguous, certain, loving arms may my children have the impulse to hold me and may I have the courage and wisdom to let them. Good night."

All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

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