So, here’s one of the thoughts I’ve been processing: death. Well, actually the larger reality is processing grief. I’ll break it up into a few posts…
Death. It’s a mystery that I cannot comprehend, as hard as I try. It is a part of this life that we humans share, yet its appearance is often shocking, incomprehensible. Why, one asks…
I hope in the resurrection, but sometimes I want to call it all bullshit. Death comes with deep pain, shocking at times, even when it is expected. Numbness takes over the body and mind, a murky haze through which life seems unreal, or even too real. The death of another calls one to confront mortality, that of the self and those we love. The harsh reality of the living in the shadow of death surfaces a fear of the unknown, a fear of being finite, and the question: Is this all there really is? My answer is no, but I am constantly challenged.
As a chaplain intern two years ago, I heard the death rattle in one of the patients, a haunting gurgle of fluid in the throat of one who is about to die, but I was never in the room at the time of a death. I comforted a mother who lost her severely premature infant mere minutes before my arrival. I cried with her, put my hand on her shoulder and said very little. The tiny body lay limp in her hands, as tears streamed down her cheeks. She washed his body and cradled him while I prayed silently over her shoulder. In the presence of death’s ugly face, what is there to say?
A little over two years ago a cousin of mine died suddenly in a car accident. Gone. He was an aspiring pilot, giving lessons with dreams of flying commercial planes, and in his early 20’s. In a split second a head-on car collision shattered those dreams and left the family in shock and utter disbelief. Death leaves a large void where once was vibrant life. It is still shocking to think about.
These memories began to surface last week with an awareness of the coming anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. And they have been heightened since hearing last night about another sudden death, this one of my roommates boss. Oh God, where are you now??
Sixteen years ago on May 3rd, 1992, my grandma died; I was a month shy of my 12th birthday. Although her death was not unexpected, it was nonetheless a shock. She had Alzheimer’s disease and six months prior had burned herself in the bathtub.
On the day she died, there was a big race in there (in Spokane, WA). 50,000 people lined the streets to participate in the annual Bloomsday race, a 12k (7.46 mile) course through the streets of Spokane. On this day I was free to run by myself. Grandma, who had been hospitalized since December, was near the end. The plan was to run, meet with relatives who would take me to see grandma–my parents were already there. I ran strong, finished well…quite proud of the accomplishment for an 11-year-old. But her death came sometime as I was finishing or shortly after. I was not able to say goodbye.
Running became a method to process my grief, and it has been a mainstay in my life ever since. The course passes the the cemetery where she (and eight months later my grandpa, too) would be buried. I have run Bloomsday as I am able, this year to be my 11th year–and each time I run past the graveyard I honor them, and whisper my goodbye. That experience was a formative event in my life. although I am not as close to the memory of my grandparents anymore, the woman I am today is shaped in their deaths. Experiencing grief at an early age shocked my senses and enabled me to tap into a deeper part of my soul. The physicality of running to process grief soon helped me to process built up anger and other emotions; now it calls me to rise above, push myself harder as motivation to cope with life’s many mountainous challenges.
And so here I am. Grieving for these losses and living through. Yet, as I wrote above, I have hope. And my love for God and love of life keeps me going, even in the midst of sorrow.
May God comfort all those who grieve this night…