Saturday, May 11

Life and Death

I was in Chicago when I saw on Facebook that the daughter of a couple in our ward had passed away, after giving birth to her sixth child. I've never met her, or her husband, but I know her parents - they've served in my young single adult ward for the last two years and been part of our family every Sunday during those years.

This family has been part of ours when we needed people most... with us far away from our own parents, they've been sitting in the back row of the chapel for years now. When my sister was recovering from cancer surgery, they were there for us. When my little brother had leukemia, this sister brought us food - to our home and to the hospital in Salt Lake where he was going through chemo. Vegan food, because she knew us well. She came to our home and scrubbed walls so that he could be safe between treatments. Laughed with our parents at family dinner when they came to visit from Chicago. Stopped and talked with me for months when our Saturday afternoon shopping trips crossed paths each week. And always had a smile whenever we saw them.

So today, when we went to the funeral of their daughter, and saw them crying in the hallway... that was hard. Hard because there's nothing you can do, or say, that changes the reality that death brings. And harder still because there's tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. I'll go on with my life. But when there is a void that's left behind, filling it can take a lifetime.

But what hit me harder than even seeing this couple in tears was a little girl sitting on the ground in the hallway, her feet tucked up beneath her, holding a book to her chest and sobbing. Alone. I don't know who she was. I found myself wanting to reach down and put my arm her, do anything to stop the pain... but felt like the whole world watching would chastise me for doing anything. I thought of the others left behind, others who felt alone - 6 children from newborn to 14 years old, her husband, her parents and in-laws, nieces and nephews and cousins...

There were too many people at the funeral. It felt like the stress and commotion was stretching some people to breaking, the chapel was full when we arrived... so after we spoke with our friends before it began, we left.

I find myself wondering when I go to funerals. And this next section may sound trite or mundane to people who are in pain. Sometimes funerals are sad. Sometimes they're happy. And sometimes there's a clear mix and divide... But age or status of the deceased don't seem to be the deciding factors. My cousin's funeral was incredibly peaceful - she was a midwife and died in a car accident driving home to California. My great-aunt's as well, who passed away slowly from degenerative diseases.

And I find myself wanting a funeral to be something more than just dressing up in Sunday clothes to listen and to cry. Death takes our loved ones away from us until we meet them again; it also signifies the beginning of a new stage of life for those who have passed on... and I think that if we could part the veil between Heaven and Earth, we'd see the loving embrace of friends, family, loved ones, and God Himself welcoming them home. We're both having family gatherings; on earth, there are tears, in Heaven, shouts of joy.

I want funerals to be a celebration of life - a celebration that someone has moved on to something else. Like graduation parties - where you know you will never see the people in your classes, perhaps ever again... but your celebrate the time you had together and the next stage you face in life.

I don't know. If I ever fall in love with a woman... And then lose her... I can't imagine how much pain that would cause. Probably because I don't even know what that would mean - it's a vague unknown that could right now only be imagined. So maybe there's nothing you can do. Maybe my funeral will be a service project and have no speakers at all. Maybe there's nothing you can do to staunch the pain that comes from losing someone - even for a few years. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one... I just hope that, maybe, when I die, there won't be a little girl curled up in the corner, sobbing... or another one looking through the window with tears in her eyes. I hope that they can share memories, laugh, and smile, and find hope and peace in the reality that the God who made me has finally taken me home.

1 comment:

Alanna said...

Dear David,
Our mortal frame of reference, even when we know the Plan of Salvation and have a testimony of it, always colors a funeral. I think most times you are happy for the person and desirous that they can go on and progress in the life hereafter, but knowing that they can't be with you right now really hurts. We too as mortals with human frailties can sometimes find a great deal to regret or wish that we had done in behalf of the person who has passed away.

I recall attending the funeral of my cousin who committed suicide versus the funeral of my grandmother who died suddenly in 1997. My grandmother was actively involved in the church and ready to pass through the veil, but it hurt so much to know that my cousin did not have an understanding of the plan of salvation. I don't think I've ever been more distraught during a funeral because of it's far-reaching effects on my extended family. Most of the aftermath has been negative. For that reason, her funeral hurt most because I had a fear of the potential for people to turn away from the gospel.

There may be a little girl curled up on the floor sobbing at your funeral because she misses you terribly, but I have a feeling there will be someone to hold her close and speak soothingly of the Savior's Atonement and the way you understood His Atonement.

I really wish you had chosen to comfort her despite a world inclined to chastise. However, I feel that I can't judge because females always get the benefit of the doubt in cuing in and responding to outward displays of emotion.

Thank you for sharing your feelings. I echo you wholeheartedly.