My mother recently shared with me how she had to tell her then-living father that his aunt had died.
She said that she dreaded telling him because, by that time in his life, he “had more people in Heaven than he did here on Earth.” When she finally informed him, he had only one question — how had the aunt died?
Upon hearing that she had passed in her sleep, my grandfather replied, “That’s a good way to go.” In 95 years on this planet, he had suffered many tragic losses; this gentle, timely parting must have at least felt fair.
My mother’s story made me pause, made me wonder. I have spent (most of us have spent) so much of my life clinging to what is here, to what I have, that I have failed to acknowledge the ultimate and natural thinning of people and all things human. Instead of accepting this tender preparation as fundamental and organic, I have historically rejected its power over my story or the story of my loved ones.
So, I began thinking of how the elderly appear drawn to each other much like one baby is attracted to another baby. I don’t mean to compare disrespectfully, but it dawned on me that both groups have a visitor feel to them — one arriving, one departing; as if each are tethered to opposite ends of the journey home and can only find fellowship in one another.
I have also noticed that as life fades into death, there is a stripping away. Time and sickness have no patience for vanity or pride and so, our essence is finally laid bare. An essence that transcends ability or possessions or beauty but can be found in our naked, unvarnished heart. A heart carried and protected by this temporary vessel; tucked in this vessel by the very hand of God.
An acquaintance of mine lost her husband to cancer a year or so ago. Sometimes I go on her Facebook page and see photos of him, a lifetime of photos. I am haunted by the final ones; the ones where he is disappearing. Translucent with longing and pain, his face is shadowed by something off-camera, something that only he can see. In order to fully see it, he must let go of what this world has so lushly given him, even those who are his. Especially those who are his.
My cousin’s husband gave the eulogy at her funeral. It still blows my mind that he was able to act as host, speaking with strong and eloquent words of their life and love, bringing us to grief’s trailhead like he already knew the way too well. He told of my cousin’s devotion to her Church and to her God. Recalling final moments and memories, he stated that on the eve of her death, my cousin had received the sacrament of confession. A murmur of satisfied amazement rippled through the crowd. Her death had been sudden; had there been a distant beckoning that only she could hear?
When I was a young girl, my mother took me to see the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar.” As the Jesus character first appeared, I began to cry and continued to cry through the entire movie. I didn’t understand it then. I barely understand it now. But there was an air of goodbye to Jesus, a crosscurrent of sorrow and expectant reunion that overwhelmed my young heart.
I know little about life and death. I am so busy rushing and accomplishing that I rarely glimpse what is here. But I am in love with this life. I think of Jesus and how his body was shattered, how his loved ones were wrenched away and how he must have felt at the moment that he shed this world. With his body surrendered, unrecognizable and useless, all that lay between Heaven and Earth was his shining, brave heart.
That had been the message all along. No matter how rugged the path, let it be so for me. Let it be so for you.
Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. She has published her first novel, “Getting Home,” and it is available at Amazon.com. For more of her columns, visit http://marywhitelovestories.com.