Death and Love

September 16, 2012

I am sitting in the parking lot at McDonald’s while my little three year old magical wild child sleeps his rare sleep in the car seat. Our cousin Nancy Jo has died and I am driving to see family. She lived a hard life with too much pain and many ill-fated attempts to numb that pain. She also lived a life of giving – she was a craft master, always dreaming up something thoughtful and sweet to give even second cousins like me. She had three amazing adult children, now left with their own complexities of various sorts not the least of which is the sudden death of their mother.

I am always struck by the swiftness of death and the fine line between the beauty and wonder of this insane world and the pain and horror of it all.

People we know are dying all the time, these days, it seems. Uncle Carl and Uncle Ollie. Nancy Jo and Uncle Bruce’s brother Bill. All those people on the news and in the newspaper. In Libya and Syria and Louisville and down the street and on facebook.

I hate how damn mundane it is. Like, it happens and the world just keeps on going. People still go to McDonalds to get their french fries and I still have more deadlines than I can manage and all the while all these souls are slipping away and lives are upended and we just march on.

It makes me want to cry at the beauty of things like my silver coffee cup sitting next to me and the curve of the steering wheel where I prop my computer, the pure magic of this world that we are thrown into. I want to go to the people streaming in and out of this McDonald’s and stop them and hold their shoulders and look into their eyes and say, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget dear, beautiful person that this is fleeting. Nancy Jo has died and Bill has died and we will not be far behind. Kiss your babies and your dog and your wife and sip your bitter coffee more carefully and lick all that salt off your fingers because this is all we fucking have.”

But I don’t. I sit here smiling at my own cliches, look back in the mirror at my sleeping baby, remind myself how precious this all is and say a little prayer for all of the hurting and loving and dying and living people of our world.


dear lovely man on the motorcycle

August 31, 2011

i heard the crash and turned to see you land. i ran out of my car as fast as i could and got to you within seconds, already on the phone to 911. i told you first thing that i was with you and that you would be okay and that we would take care of you. i did not want you to hurt alone or to be scared. i prayed and prayed silently, just with my heart, as it all swirled around – the cpr and the blood and your precious pulse stopping and starting, your tan skin there, under my skin as we tried to care for you. i prayed with my gut and with all that i had that it would be an okay that meant your life would continue and that this would be the worst pain you were ever in and it would only get better and you would never again be so wounded.

i just walked past that place where i prayed with you and over you and held your hand and touched your chest just four short days ago. it was the flower that announced what happened after you rolled away in the ambulance with the sirens and the prayers and the tubes. a little sign on a flower – rest in peace. i told you that you would be okay, and although i know it does not seem like it to the people who loved you, it is a different okay because i know you are somewhere where there is no blood and there is no pain and there are no damn motorcycles or accidents or wounds. it is not the okay that i wished for you, but what is, is. this world is so damn unfair and unjust. i sit here crying over you – over your hurt, over the fact that we could not save you as we gathered around your delicate and precious self laying there. crying is so inadequate, i know. what else is there to do?

please know that being there with you was a great privilege. to see your precious life, and to hold your hand, and touch your skin. in such moments we are all so vulnerable. i want you to know, and i hope there is a way for your family and loved ones to know that it was only five seconds after your accident that you were alone. i got to your side and immediately reassured you, comforted you, prayed for you. shortly others joined who were equally as gentle and kind and helpful. you were surrounded by love. i believe that it is the case, wherever you are now, that you continue to be surrounded by love.

i did not pray in words the day that i was there with you. but here is my prayer now. i hope it finds its way to you somehow.

dear god, who is the god of love and peace, i do no not understand how this sort of pain happens. there are no good reasons for this. yet i know this happens. the world happens and pain happens and loss and hurt and unfairness and we are stuck here right in the middle of it, just trying to do something, trying to make our way. i am left only to breathe and pray and love and hope. to hope that there is a way to make sense of it, to hope that we can make less pain like this, to hope that the family of this man who laid there with me finds a way to make sense of this and live with this loss. it is all so fast. it is all so precious. in one second we are on our motorcycle, fast with the wind against us, and in the next we are laying there, everything changed. everything fleeting. in one second we are sitting in our car and in the next we are holding the hand of a stranger who is saying goodbye to this world. god, be with his family. be with those who loved him. be with him as he sits or floats or lingers in heaven, wherever that is or whatever that is, and looks down on the life that he had in all its beauty and brokenness. give us all the strength to be with each other as we hurt – as we long for those who we have lost, or as we lay in the ground one friday afternoon. give us the strength to love more, to remember well, to be at peace with the madness that is this world where things do not make sense and are not fair. may we keep loving. hard. may we keep praying. hard. praying with our hands and our feet and our hearts as we try to lessen the brokenness. in our own lives. and in others’ lives.

i’m so sorry, precious beautiful man on the motorcycle. may god have you in god’s embrace.

amen amen amen.


How to Remember

October 19, 2010

A few weeks ago someone I once loved very much killed himself. He was a complex, beautiful, maddening, difficult person. We had mostly lost touch over the years, short of a little facebook contact, but I was still deeply sad about his life and death.

I struggled with what to do. Write a letter to his family telling them how much he meant to me? Probably not welcomed by the wife from the ex-girlfriend. As if anything I could say could possibly touch the chaos and confusion in the wake of such a death.

It is, in the end, so much about us – me – in the face of someone else’s loss, right? Like what does it matter to him or his hurting family how much I loved him? How much I understood of him, if, indeed, I did understand anything of him? In a way, wanting to do something at all is about me. How to live with the loss which feels intense. When I love, I don’t do it lightly. Perhaps a little less gravity in my love would be a good thing both for me and for those whom I love.

I thought of writing something thoughtful and profound on the memories part of the funeral website. I hoped to somehow capture how important he was too me and how amazing I thought he was in his own strange way. In a little gesture, to honor my memory of him. But I couldn’t bring myself to put it out there mostly because all of the other notes were empty and like syrupy bad Hallmark cards that said nothing about who he was and my post would have been weird and out of place if not just a little creepy.

I wasn’t able to go home to Ohio for the funeral because I was in the midst of my doctoral exams. But perhaps it was better because I know the funeral would have been eerily silent about the fact that he took his own life, alone in his barn, on a Sunday afternoon.

It would have been silent about his broken body.

It would have been silent about the hurt he caused those whom he loved and who loved him. He was a pretty selfish guy, to be honest. But charming and beautiful and funny and addictive. You can’t really say that at a funeral.

It would have been silent about his mystery and his brilliance and his hurt that was with him when I knew him quite some years ago and, apparently, remained in one form or another.

There would have been no way to remember his magic in this world along with and inextricable from his madness.

It makes me all itchy inside to think about the platitudes and careless use of religiosity that often, I suppose, feels like the only recourse at a difficult funeral where we are not to speak ill of the dead and in the process fail to remember them in all their humanity and fullness.

And so it goes.

This is my small way of remembering him.

I loved you so much, dear Levi and pray with all that I am that you find, in death – in absence – what you did not find in your short life.


Dying

April 30, 2006

My grandma is dying very quickly. She was diagnosed with lung cancer about two month ago or so, and we soon found out that it spread to her bones. I have planned to go see her two times, but both times ended up canceling because I wasn’t feeling well or it seemed so hectic to try to go down to see her and weave around the throngs of family there and try to talk to her while she was feeling bad and…. well, it just seemed to make sense to wait and she was doing quite well until just recently. And she is not doing well now. She can barely walk or go to the bathroom herself. She knows she is dying. She is 81 and has nine children and 32 grand children and feels that she has lived a good life. That said, I don’t think it makes it any easier for the family to watch her increased confusion, decreased ability to do adult things, her increasing pain, that fear that she has even as a Catholic that she can’t be sure what comes next. I can’t help but be angry that my mom has to take care of her again – my mom did so much taking care of my grandma and her brothers and sisters when my mom was a child and my grandma was sick then too. And of course it doesn’t feel good to be a little angry at someone who is dying, but of course I’m sure it is normal. What it really comes down to is that when people die, it just sucks. The process typically isn’t pleasant. The feelings it brings up aren’t pleasant. I know, I know. Not very ministerial, ehh? I mean, this a time to celebrate life, pass peacefully into a new place, and so on. But it just isn’t that easy, at least not for me. It sucked when my Aunt Carol died of lung cancer two years ago, it sucked when my Mammaw suffered for five years before she finally died, it sucked that a possum ate my sweet little kittens Wilbur and Lilly when I was 10, when Luke (another cat) got hit on the road, or getting that call in the middle of the night that my cousin committed suicide. I know I’ll need to develop a better spiel on this before I do my CPE with hospice (planned Summer 07), but sometimes I think people try to flower up death and make it a beautiful process and celebration of life and there really isn’t anything nice about not being able to go to the bathroom yourself or your bones being painfully eaten away by cancer. And ministers need to find a way to acknowledge the messy, horrible parts of death and not just make it some sort of divinity-school-land fluffy thing about beauty and hope and transition and cycles. It is horrible, in many ways. And I hate it that my grandma has to go through it and that my mom has to suffer too.

A short p.s. I am listening to Third Day which is a Christian band I listened to in high school and there is something comforting about it. Even though the way they sing about God is not quite how I would frame it, it is great to hear the passion and joyful aching about God’s love. And it reminds me that I really do relate to God language and it makes me more irritated about that speaker yesterday (see previous post) making fun of people who believe in God or talk about God in a certain way. In times of death and dying and deep deep darkness that doesn’t seem like it will ever go away, God whoever whatever he or she is has been a great person to be with me. And, even as I make fun of Revolve magazine (see two posts ago) I also need to remember that that type of spirituality, no matter how sexist and annoying I find it, can bring great joy and comfort to girls who ache. I just hope that in my life I can carve out a space for a God that is there for you when you ache, and even maybe a Jesus who is there for you when you ache, without all the other baggage about how nonChristians will go to hell and men need to be in charge.

Enough for today. As I wrap up Gracie (my kitty) has come up and licked my nose. Animals are so good at caring for us. That’s all for now. E