I feel like I should write something about Gloria. Today is the first anniversary of her death. It was a good death – no, not a good death, a good dying. Her family was gathered around her. She was alert through the day. We told stories. We expressed our love. We shared memories. We laughed and wept. We were together. We were there with her. The hospital was gracious. The nurses helpful. It was a good dying.
But it was still death. She never came home to us. We watched her last breath and walked away alone. Now it was plans with the funeral director and the pastor. Now it was conversations on how to remember and celebrate her life rightly. Now it was looking in her files for notes on what she wanted. Now it was going through her closet and deciding what to do with things. Now it was emptiness and sorrow.
Death will always be death. Yes, it is a reality of existence, but I disagree with the sentiment that “it’s a part of life.” It’s an end of life – this life, anyway. Yes, all those things about being made of stardust are true. The elements of our bodies will return to the soil and arise in the grass and trees. But the thing that we are – the thing that is more than elements and neurons, the thing we call spirit, person, self – that thing has slipped away.
There is memory. There is legacy. There is that echo of her living presence that rattles around in the house touching our memories, our hopes, our emotions. But she will never guide me as I dig for her in the flowerbed. She will never make her myriad trips to various stores, each its own best place for some particular ingredient for dinner. She will not delight in going to lunch in some new fast-food restaurant – or pull out a small pile of coupons for places to try. She will no longer kindly assert that she loved it all when we tell the stories of a houseful of boys playing pranks on their father and keeping every snake and bug caught in the woods.
I do not want to move too quickly to any of those attempts to soften our loss or obscure the ruthless reality of death by promises of life to come. It doesn’t seem fair to me. Too easily such talk invalidates our loss, our grief, as though we should not be sad because “She is with God, now.” Maybe. But she is not with us and that loss is definitely real.
That talk about “It’s part of life” seems to do the same thing to me, as if death were not really death. But we are not leaves falling from the trees in the fall and returning to the soil to be taken up again. We are vibrant, strange, loving, hating, believing, trusting creatures that like some flavors over others, some flowers over others, some fabrics over others. We choose. We feel. We hope and dream. We weep and regret. We are. And then we are not. And those who remain, hurt. Something is lost, not just to us but to the world.
So let us linger there for a moment. Let us stand at the graveside and feel our loss. Let us tell the stories and weep the tears. Your job isn’t to make them go away. You job is to see that a real person lived whom we loved and who loved. Your job is to stand with us in the sorrow. Your job is to honor life and lament death. And, when we are ready, we will speak of what is to come. But don’t count on us to stay there. Days like this will take us back to the graveside.