Written March 2008
There have been a flood of events that have spun themselves into my life lately. It’s not that I invited them; actually I had nothing to do with them. If I could have chosen I probably wouldn’t have chosen these particular ones. However, as each page lazily flipped by, I have learned something new about life.
Something new about life that is actually about death. Interesting, isn’t it? I’ve always been somewhat of a philosopher… and as usual, once again I have been reflecting on the why’s, how’s, and what’s. All of my life I have heard all the so-called normal musings of the passing moments of time. How you start dying when you are born, what an average life span is, etc., etc., but I’ve not given it much room in my thought process except for the scattered musing that it is.
My own life has reached an apex. This is my 49th year of life, therefore by all human reasoning, over half way of my personal life span for I’m sure not to reach a 100 of these 365-day units. It is so intriguing, really. Although most people have a tendency to fear the velocity of the passing years, each decade of my life has been to me, the best. As I begin to approach the autumn of my life I think, “How unfair! That the later years be the happiest and alas shortest years of one’s life.” Of course, those thoughts bring thoughts of what else? Death.
One of my grandpas died when I was 5. I remember his smile. I remember his eyes. I remember my dad shaving grandpa’s beard on Sunday afternoons. I remember little else.
My other grandpa died when I was 13. We had spent some time together. Not near enough. His death was sad and I knew I would miss him, but it impacted my life in a very small way. I loved him but the event was almost so distant that grief was a detached, sad awareness that followed me for a while but then was gone.
My grandmother died when I was in my late 20’s. It hurt. I missed her. I didn’t go to say “goodbye”. She came to say goodbye to me, or so I thought one late evening when I was apologizing to the ‘air’ that I didn’t go to her funeral. Her presence was real and she forgave me.
My other Mawma died and caused me the deepest sorrow. She was very dear to me and filled my heart with love. I always regretted not going to grandmother’s funeral, so I made sure whatever it took, that I went to Mawma’s last church service…well, the last service in honor of her memory anyway. I stood by my own mother as she peered down into her mom’s face and said, “Momma, I’ll see you again”, her tears tracing tracks down her cheeks but her heart knowing full well that she would indeed see her again. That eased her pain and I sensed that fiercely within my own heart as well and filed it deeply away there for safekeeping.
It is March and this past January, hence a few short months ago my husband lost his own mother. As we saw the day approaching grief commenced. All kinds of feelings arose in my heart. Memories of course, but mostly unsettled feelings of the usual questions: what? How? When? Where? How do I act with my husband? Will the grief be different, more intense, scary? This will be our first parental passing and I don’t quite know how to act. Will I be able to give him the comfort that he needs? Or will he need space away from his wife? Will I be able to distinguish the difference? Do I take charge, make plans myself, or ask his input?
I thought I might be losing it as I tried to grab all the untied ends and bring them together to make some kind of sense out of the tangled strands. I prayed, I cried, I wondered and I spoke to friends. As the words made their way out of my mouth they resounded with a strangeness and hollowness. How can these things be so real and moving; so huge and significant when unborn but as they slip out and fall from my tongue be so inconsequential and small? Like statements made undeserving of an answer they in themselves became answers. After all, this occurrence that is knocking at our door is not even about me at all!
So instead, I gather my wits…what ones I have left, like a skirt being lifted above my stumbling feet and walk on. I know that I will find my footing one step at a time. May God give me answers as He sees fit and clear the fog, as I need to see.
He did. He is. As my husband bounced between the need to stay busy and the requirement of his emotions to spill over on my shoulders, God gave grace.
My mother in law passed from this present earthly life to a much more peaceful one beyond the skies with family and friends surrounding her bed. Some quietly prayed, some cried out loud, some murmured in her ear. It was beautiful really. She didn’t want to be in a hospital with tubes, contraptions and medical personnel; she wanted her journey into the eternal stage to be amongst familiar surroundings. Her youngest son, my husband; egging her on as I can just imagine she once encouraged him to take baby steps when he was learning to walk. Fearful of the unknown, apprehensive of a fall, the unfamiliar territory now teetering under her feet, the earth has somehow flip flopped and turned upside down… the younger assisting the elder: “You can do it, mom! Fly to Jesus…Fly to Jesus… He is waiting, you are ready.”
Some things are best understood looking in the rear view mirror. I understand her heart a little better now that she is gone. Again, it seems an unfair fact that this is the way of life. In school, we learn, get tested and apply the knowledge. In life, we get tested, learn and attempt to apply the knowledge. Just as in school, life produces those who learn well, those who merely squeeze by and the sad ones who fail the course.
When I get to that cloudless sky location and my grandparents, my mother in law and others I have known gather to welcome me, it will have just been a moment in time for them since they saw me last. There no time exists, so any knowledge of hours passing or days and days of new awakenings are not experienced. Therefore, it will be a stand-still moment when they look up and see me coming their way. This thought makes me happy although I cannot really comprehend it. We are all about time and space. We wake up to this day, this birthday arrives and passes, holidays, events and circumstances crowd in on us and pass by us much too quickly. Whereas, those who have gone beyond death are caught in an endless moment. Talk as long as you want. Watch an endless sunset. Take an unending walk. Be with loved ones for a timeless space. Never hurt because there isn’t anything to hurt about.
Although there exists a few things I would change about my relationships with my grandparents and especially my mother in law, thank God there is no remorse, no deep regret because there were no issues left unsolved. No words left unspoken. No feelings left hidden. No bitter tears falling on my pillow at night because the chance to make things right passed me by. I am filled with thanksgiving that I did my best. I loved, I enveloped, I strove to provide what was available to me at the time. I can say, “I miss you, mom” into the dark and if by some chance she can hear the words, she knows they come from my heart and not a guilty conscience.
Not too long ago I went to another funeral. The son of a friend who had taken his own life. My first thought was one of horror that this way of death to life had come so close to somebody I love. I then thought of my friend and the alarm he must be feeling. When my thoughts turned to the man who had lost all hope, the tears sprang from my eyes. Obviously, his heart was broken. For himself? Did he lose the race because he was so lost in his own hopelessness? Was it perhaps his only conceivable way out? More than likely he thought everyone else would be better off with his absence rather than his presence. He wasn’t tethered to anything to hold him during his storm. The waves just crashed and crashed and tumbled him over and over again until he knew no possible ties to keep him on the shore of life.
I grieved that this man had no one to call at his moment of despair. He trusted none and searched for none to come and assist him back up into the boat. How sad that no names ran through his mind to call out before he perished into the fathomless sea of hopelessness. How terrible that he had lost all reasoning, deaf to all encouragement, blind to loved ones beckoning him back to the shore of safety.
An unexpected death is always a shock, but the purposeful hand of death that takes before death’s rational time is a trauma that overtakes comfort in a hopeless grip. Much like a gamble that has such enormous odds one cannot even conceive victory in one’s biggest fantasies. God specializes in the unconceivable. He delights in making an interstate where there isn’t even a brier-infested footpath. I saw comfort and peace come to my friend, his wife and family that was beautiful to behold.
Sad to say, others did not know this peace that passes all human understanding. As regretful as the man’s hopeless questions were without answers, his friends, family and acquaintances all gathered to say their last good-byes with an anguish of heart. I felt the suffering that went deeper than sorrow like a soggy blanket of eerie fog that enveloped and twisted around their minds. The intense wrenching of… what?…. Unforgiveness? Unsettled issues? Argument and harmful motives are either gone forever or lasting without end; buried or exhumed without completion or depletion. The kind of grief that emerges seems beyond compare or consolation.
I silently pray that his death be more meaningful than his life. Perhaps it will shock-wake the living dead into an awareness that will propel them towards seeking a better purpose. I whisper a prayer that I can be the type of friend that comes to someone’s mind in their moment of desperation. My tears bear a witness to the wounds in my heart. The scars that I have hidden there are a testimony to the world that healing is possible. I wish, I pray, I yearn that somehow the pain that left it’s marks in my soul can stand and shout to the ones still searching for hope and peace. Maybe, just maybe the memories can stand like monuments beaming lighthouse rays to sinking ships. Oh, God, let it not be in vain!
How very different these two funerals have been. Not only because one had reached her allotted years of life, and the other ending his days before the appointed time but because of the assurances of peace and comfort at one and the anguish and despair at the other. At one, we grieved for what we had lost; at the other we grieved at what he lost. Lost hope. Lost years. Lost love, thus lost life. Never will he wake up to a new day nor opportunity to make changes, settle debts, reconcile hurt, recover, repent, look back nor look forward.
What I am learning about death causes me to learn about life. Death is to be embraced as a portal into the eternal life, not something to be forced as the only alternative because there seems to be no hope left. We should be able, like my mother in law to walk from our feeble life in this fleshly cage to a welcoming glorious hereafter with no minutes, hours or days.
I realize that life should be approached the same way. There are days that circumstances and events propel me towards a goal. Something I read produces inspiration. Something I hear creates desire. Dreams aroused to an “awake” state. How can so many disjointed events fit so well together? I hear somebody say something and then I watch a movie that arouses the same thoughts. I read a book that causes me to contemplate a certain action, then I turn around and there is something else pulling at me, pushing me, encouraging me, inspiring me to make a change; to do something new and beyond my present skill sets.
Do I walk into the opportunity or turn away putting to death a dream… a hope… an open door? Do I thrust a knife into the calling, killing it, smoldering and snuffing out the new life that wants to open up to me? Or do I approach it, even though apprehensive with words of affirmation in my ear… walk, baby… I know you can… take a step… come on! You can do it!
Life is made up of countless pieces to put into place so that when we reach the final stages of our earthly life you can see the full picture. So many times we take the piece we have been given and turn it around and around, flip it over, contemplate it and if it doesn’t look like we think it should, we discard it. Sometimes we just need the other pieces to come into being first. Other times the spot is open, ready for us to position the piece neatly into place. Some we choose, and some are thrust upon us. Some pieces are dark with no apparent image. Some are bright and beautifully colored, but until the picture is complete we should not, must not forget that a picture is being woven and etched on our life. What will yours look like upon your death?