This is a post I meant to write yesterday – a reflection on a life cut too short earlier in the week. And yet for whatever reason, I did not do it then. Now, today, I must, because yet another life that I held dear and valued has ended.
Earlier in the week I turned to a book on my shelf by Joyce Rupp called Praying our Goodbyes. The opening poem to one chapter comes from Robert Frost:
The rain to the wind said,
“You push and I’ll pelt.”
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged – though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
There are a lot of people this week I'm certain, who know how the flowers felt: beaten down, weakened, stilled by news and the coming of that which was totally unexpected; overwhelmed, empty, confused and sad. No green garden stick can prop either the flowers or us back to the way we felt what seems like only moments – or days – ago.
It strikes me that the hardest part in these recent losses that occurred in the neighborhood of my heart is that there was no goodbye; no chance to say “thank you” for what you added to my life, or “thank you” for what you taught me about strength or commitment or joy or enthusiasm. Several years ago my very best childhood friend died. She had neglected her medical care and then when finally she knew something was wrong, it was too late. We had talked on the phone – and were going to talk again…until I got the unanticipated call from a friend that she was gone. My life is still empty for her absence. The emptiness does not go away, but it is eased by the memories of shared times – thanks be to God.
I am listening to a book on CD in my car and part of what I heard today talked about dying. There was a short snippet about someone’s grandfather who was dying but who at the last moment, sat up and smiled; and then he died. That got me to thinking about my mother who had been in nursing care with hospice support for two years. One day when I was visiting she simply could not keep her eyes open as I read to her. I remember saying to her “I don’t think you’ve heard anything I’ve read today.” And her reply was “I heard every word.” You need to know that my mom was very hearing impaired, with virtually no hearing in one ear, and only some (with a hearing aid) in the other. At the time I thought she was just trying to make me feel better. Almost ten years later I think she really did hear me – every word. One week later she was gone. I like to think there is some moment of clarity at death.
I was reading another book recently and came across this quote: “You think dying is the end – and then you discover it is just the beginning.” It is so true. It is the beginning of life without your spouse, your forever friend, your soul mate. And it is the beginning of discovering the “who will”s of life: who will take the food collection to the food pantry; who will read and study the map; who will help sing the songs; who will I call when I want to talk to him/her; who will cook the holiday dinner or offer the blessing or correct me when I am misbehaving?
We are saddened but we are as well blessed by those we have known and now know only in our aching hearts. Someone has died, somewhere – sometimes someone close to us – and yet we go on; we remember, we pray, we celebrate; and in time we will laugh again.