Gifts of Passage: What the Dying Tell Us with the Gifts They Leave Behind

Gifts of Passage: What the Dying Tell Us with the Gifts They Leave Behind

by Amy Hollingsworth


View All Available Formats & Editions

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Eligible for FREE SHIPPING


Gifts of Passage: What the Dying Tell Us with the Gifts They Leave Behind by Amy Hollingsworth

Not all gifts are tangible.

After suffering the loss of her father while writing her bestselling debut book, Amy Hollingsworth began to search for the meaning behind his dying moments. What she found was a simple truth at the heart of overcoming the deepest grief: the dying leave gifts. With deeply moving stories of how others discovered the gifts their loved ones left behind, this book will gently encourage you to anticipate and uncover your own.

Weaving together the warm intimacy of Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie and the straightforward honesty of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, Amy Hollingsworth adds her hopeful voice to the literature of life and the life beyond. The result is a collection of stories that gives the reader myriad ways to identify their own pain and healing and is an intriguing journey for any and all readers fascinated by this brief overlap of heaven and earth.

From the bestselling author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849919206
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 04/28/2008
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amy Hollingsworth is the author of the best-selling The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers and Gifts of Passage. Before writing books, Amy wrote for various magazines and was a television writer for eight years for CBN. In 2010, she was named one of USA Today’s Top 100 People for her influence on pop culture and was featured in the documentary by MTV’s Benjamin Wagner titled Mister Rogers & Me. Her television appearances include WGN’s Morning News, PBS’s A Word on Words, and Fox’s Morning News. A former psychology professor, Amy lives in Virginia with her husband and children.

Read an Excerpt



Copyright © 2008
Amy Hollingsworth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-1920-6


I am sitting on the porch swing outside a mountain cabin, waiting for my dad to come out of the woods. Any minute I expect him to emerge from the thicket of trees that extends to my right, in his denim shirt and jeans and cowboy boots. He will probably be upset, cursing at the mess he has made trying to relieve himself in the wild. It would be payback for all the times he'd taken my sisters and me fishing as kids, only to hand us a roll of toilet paper and nod in the direction of the woods when we whined we had to go to the bathroom. Six girls, no boys, one dad. For a moment I can feel the corners of my mouth lift at the memory, then settle back into place when I look down at the small paperback in my lap, C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. I have read the book once before, years ago, when my brother-in-law's fiancée died unexpectedly. It helped me then, and I am hoping it will help me now.

How strangely stupid is grief. I have read that somewhere. It must have been written a long time ago, when stupid still meant to be in a stupor. To be struck senseless. Maybe initially grief does strike you senseless, but over time it does the opposite. It awakens the senses: you see, hear, feel, and smell the lost loved one everywhere. I lookdown at my book again, and as if to add its assent, it reads: "We now verified for ourselves what so many bereaved people have reported; the ubiquitous presence of a dead man, as if he had ceased to meet us in particular places in order to meet us everywhere."

"Meet us everywhere." My eyes shift back to the woods. It is a silly expectation. Dad has never gone on vacation with my family-my husband and kids and me-before. There is no precedent for his being at that cabin. It isn't a real memory. It isn't a real expectation. Part of the reason for this trip to the mountains is to reflect on his death exactly a year ago.

There is something still to be done, between my father and me, a year after his death. As he was dying, he left me a gift. And now, as I ease out of the grief that stupefies and into the grief that awakens the senses, I am ready to discover what his gift means.

The Gift

I first learned that the dying give gifts from the literature the hospice nurses gave me when Dad came under their care. End-of-life giving is so characteristic of the dying that it is listed as a sign of approaching death, sandwiched between symptoms such as restlessness and congestion. It's part of the pattern, the orderly pattern of death.

This gift giving, the literature explains, is deliberate, and it most often occurs months before death, usually when the person discovers he has a terminal illness.

This was true of Dad. When he was first diagnosed with lung cancer, nine months before he died, he wanted me to have his Bible. He gave my son a telescope and his coveted piece of history, a souvenir from Omaha Beach in Normandy. My daughter got his animal almanac.

But these gifts were very different from Dad's final gift, bestowed in the last moments of his life, when being deliberate was no longer an option. I had never been with someone who was dying, and the intense spirituality that surrounds death surprised me. Dad seemed to be slipping into eternity by degrees, not all at once. For a time he teetered between two worlds; you could almost measure it in percentages: 80-20 one day, 90-10 the next. It was during this transition-this easing into eternity-that his gift was given.

This, of course, wasn't the mindful gift giving the hospice literature had described. I couldn't find any resource that explained these types of gifts-gifts with an otherworldly dimension because they are given during this sacred window, this brief overlap of heaven and earth.

I thought about other significant events in life, events we call rites of passage, that are also marked by gift giving. But usually the persons undergoing the passage-the baby at her baptism, the young man at his bar mitzvah, the debutante at her coming-out party-are the recipients of the gifts, not the givers. But death is different. The dying also make a passage (we even say "pass away" to describe their transition from one place to another, as if they were travelers), but they are the ones doing the giving.

That was the best way I knew to describe it; my father had given me a gift of passage, a gift that marked his passage.

Now I had something to call it, even if I didn't yet know what it meant.

Two Legends

My kids remind me that there is an image similar to my idea of a gift of passage in one of our favorite books, Where the Red Fern Grows. It is a classic boy-and-his-dog story (in this case, two dogs) that ends like Sounder, Old Yeller, and others, with the death of the boy's beloved pets.

At the end of the book, when Billy is leaving his home in the Ozarks with his family, he visits the place where his dogs are buried to say good-bye. There, at their makeshift grave site, he sees a red fern growing.

The Indians have a legend, Billy tells us, about the red fern. Its origin stems from the tragedy of two Indian children, a boy and a girl, lost in a blizzard and frozen to death. When they are found in the thaw of spring, a red fern has grown up between their forgotten bodies. The legend of the red fern holds that only an angel can plant the seeds, and the spot where the red fern grows is sacred. It is a mystic grave marker, when life springs from death. The red fern never dies.

Billy's father, a man of deep faith inclined to dismiss legends, begins to question himself: "Maybe this is God's way of helping Billy understand why his dogs died."

Billy believes too: "I'm sure it is, Papa, and I do understand. I feel different now." He begins to notice things he has overlooked since his dogs died-in evidence of the grief that awakens senses.

Perhaps the red fern sets the pattern for all gifts of passage: planted by angels, they make death sacred, and they never die, because they are birthed from eternity. Even if the gift is not given during the passage, as my father's was, the seeds are planted then. Most important, they serve a divine purpose; they are God's way of helping us understand when someone dies.

I am certain I am on to something. I can't be the only one ever to have received a gift of passage. I decide to spend some time-months, a year if necessary-seeking out the gifts of others. Perhaps mining their stories will help me understand my own.

It's nice to have a guiding image, but better to have a well-lit path. The red fern had given me a powerful metaphor but no clear-cut place to start. Instead, I had to rely, as Billy had done, on noticing things I'd overlooked. It was only after many months had passed that I realized another ancient legend had guided my way-not of the red fern but of the red thread. The Chinese believe that an invisible red thread binds those who are destined to be together. Parents who adopt children-especially from foreign countries-often use the imagery to illustrate the providence of unexpected kinship. I didn't realize it at the time, but when I began my search to find the meaning of my dad's dying gift, I was taking hold of a red thread. Over the next months my red thread would wend its way, crossing time and culture, spanning age and death-connecting me to those whose stories would matter to me, would teach me. Each gift unraveled like a mystery, so that I was learning not only about the gift but about the process I had to go through to discern my own. With each story the red thread tightened, pulling me closer to the meaning of Dad's final gift.

Looking back, I shouldn't have been surprised by the first person the red thread bound me to. It was the man whose story of grief lay in my lap as I sat on the porch swing, waiting for Dad to come out of the woods.


Excerpted from GIFTS of PASSAGE by AMY HOLLINGSWORTH Copyright © 2008 by Amy Hollingsworth. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
<%TOC%> Contents Acknowledgments....................ix
PART 1 1 Out of the Woods....................1
Gifts of Love 2 The Fourth Love....................9
3 Heaven's Purse....................20
Gifts of Presence 4 The Gold Ring....................35
5 The Last Thing....................49
A Gift from My Father Figure 6 Pennies from Heaven....................67
PART 2 Gifts of Honor 7 A Home for Mary....................85
8 Leaps of Faith....................99
Gifts of Intrigue 9 When Sorrow Needs a Map....................119
10 If Only for an Hour....................131
A Gift from My Father 11 What the Good Son Gets....................149
12 Back to the Woods....................165

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, ix,
1 Out of the Woods, 1,
Gifts of Love,
2 The Fourth Love, 9,
3 Heaven's Purse, 20,
Gifts of Presence,
4 The Gold Ring, 35,
5 The Last Thing, 49,
A Gift from My Father Figure,
6 Pennies from Heaven, 67,
Gifts of Honor,
7 A Home for Mary, 85,
8 Leaps of Faith, 99,
Gifts of Intrigue,
9 When Sorrow Needs a Map, 119,
10 If Only for an Hour, 131,
A Gift from My Father,
11 What the Good Son Gets, 149,
12 Back to the Woods, 165,
Epilogue, 170,
Notes, 175,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews