December 7, 2013

Using death to reflect on life, love

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.

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