At a deathbed I have prayed this prayer so many times I cannot remember, yet I still cannot get through it dry-eyed: “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”
The last time I did so the woman let go of her earthly breath the moment we finished. We sat in stunned silence as her heart caught up with her spirit. Then her widower caressed her face and said goodbye, and I sensed in his voice and face a kind of loving relief, thankful that she was no longer in pain.
At the committal service we pray, “You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Give rest, O Christ, to your servant(s) with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”
Ashes on the head are a reminder that death is the final miracle of earthly life, the flip side of the miracle of birth.