I recently observed an anniversary, but not the kind with fancy dinners, cake, and champagne. This was the sort of anniversary that most folks don’t like to observe. With a heavy heart, you watch this variety creep up on you, because these are anniversaries of loss.
Some are easier than others. Often, you can look back with fond memories of a long life, well-lived, and the knowledge that our loved ones were ready to leave this earth, no matter that we long to have them with us still. But the unexpected, untimely, or tragic deaths … those haunt us, and sometimes even taunt us. My latest memorial was a two-in-one anniversary: the death of my mother, five years ago, and nineteen years since the suicide death of my dearest friend, Maggie. One doesn’t like to whine, and go on and on about such things, but, yeah, it was tough, so I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you on this (often) taboo subject of death.
Death has varied methods of escorting our loved ones from this earth. It threatens our loved ones by way of serious accidents or illnesses, during which we keep vigil at their sides. Sometimes we are forced to say our goodbyes, while for others, after much prayer and medical intervention, death slowly moves on, promising to return one day. Often, it sneaks right up on us, and snatches someone away before we have a chance to say goodbye … sometimes, even before we have a chance to say hello! And occasionally, it is just such a tragic and incomprehensible death that we are immobilized by the pain and shock, unable to function, barely able to breathe.
I have experienced all of these. I was at my mom’s side when she died. She was elderly, and had not been in good health for many years. I was blessed to have been there with her for her last “good day,” and we talked about death and dying, Mom telling me that she was ready. I witnessed the body’s journey from life to death, the physical distress and unrest, which slowly transitions into a heavy sleep. Then the bedside vigil begins. When the end is near, the breathing slows and becomes labored, and you wait, holding your own breath, wondering when it will be the last for this person you hold dear. My mom left this earth in a serene and peaceful manner. I felt truly blessed to be a witness of her passage.
But, oh, those tragic ones! What sustains us through those, with any trace of hope and sanity? For me, it has been the strength, the joy, and the hope that comes from a life of faith. When I received the news of my friend’s death, I passed through twenty-four hours of unmitigated terror. I wanted to run away, to the ends of the earth, and scream at the trees and the sky and the ocean, “How could this be?!”
As the days passed, I moved into planning mode, doing what I needed to do to get through the funeral. I was invited to meet with the family and aid in the funeral planning, which helped me immeasurably. I met with our Bible study group, which my friend and I had attended for years, just a group of moms studying scripture together. We held each other and cried, and then we found things to laugh about. And that’s how things went for several months, lots of crying, with laughter mixed in, working hard to focus on the gifts and the blessings, instead of what felt like an empty hole in my chest.
Suddenly, here I am now, nineteen years later, at the cemetery, scrubbing Maggie’s headstone, and recalling all of the crazy fun we had together, and how very much I loved her, and continue to love her. Do I still miss her; does it still hurt? Yes, to both of those questions, but, I can laugh and smile and love better because of what I’ve been through. I have become a better listener, and a loyal and compassionate friend.
After her death, I was sufficiently emboldened to step off of this crazy roller coaster of life, slow down, and put my family first. All of these things have come to me because of this painful loss, and because her love is still with me, holding me close, reminding me that I was found worthy of such a blessed friendship.
This latest anniversary had me shedding tears of sorrow, mixed with joy. The source of the sorrow is obvious, but the feelings of joy will perplex some people. Those of you who share my faith will understand the promise of eternity, and being united with those who’ve gone before.
If you haven’t recently visited a cemetery, I encourage you to make this trip soon. Take some flowers, say some prayers, and shed some tears, then rejoice in the promise of “the life everlasting,” which is our only unshakable refuge when death comes knocking.
Copyright 2018 Charlene Rack