My grandpa died when I was 4. He was big and tall and had a black patch over one eye. A stroke patient before his 55th birthday (and long before I was even born), he walked with a cane and couldn’t speak. Needless to say, as a little girl,he scared me. But laying there in that hospital bed with his wife and daughters gathered around, he didn’t garner my fear, but my pity.
I remember sitting quietly on my mom’s lap until Grandma whispered through tears: “He’s gone”. My mom and aunts each kissed his cheek and stood in the institutional gray room silently weeping. I remember a few moments later (or what seemed like a few moments, but I guess in reality, it must have been a much longer time) watching the hearse pull out onto the street and off to the funeral home. After that, I have no memories…not of a funeral or memorial service or of what we did after he died. I only remember the death.
Flash forward a few years to our house on East End Street. The police showed up at our door. I don’t remember the time or day or the weather, but I remember the panic in both my parent’s eyes. Dad grabbed his bag and left. My mom, tears streaming down her cheeks, broke into fervent prayer. Suicide, they said. So young, they said. So much life left, they said. Her kids were close to my age and now they were motherless.
Finishing up my freshman year in college, I came home for a few days to regroup before starting my summer job. As soon as I walked in the door, my mom told me she wasn’t doing well. Moments later, the phone rang. My best friend’s voice sounded tired and sad and all she said was “she’s gone”. We got off the phone and I walked the few blocks to her house. Her aunt was cleaning. Everything was quiet and strange and even the house seemed to know she was gone. We hugged. We cried. Then we talked about everything and nothing. The funeral, the first one I’d attend as an “adult” upset me. Why were people eating and smiling and talking? Didn’t they know she was gone? Didn’t they get it? So young. So much life left.
Since then I’ve been near death many times. Family members. Close friends. Strangers. Tragedy. Cancer. Accidents. Natural causes. Old. Young. Too young. Too fast. Too slow. At some point, it doesn’t matter how or when death comes, just that it comes.
Does it make it easier when there’s the hope and certainty of heaven? The obvious answer is yes.
But missing the person is still just as real.
The grief feels just as raw.
The reality of day to day without them is just as empty.
The aching arms of a mother longing to feel the weight of her baby.
The quiet, cold loneliness of a spouse-less bed.
The missed conversations with a dear sister.
The advice never to be given by a wise mother.
The dreary prospect of another meal eaten alone.
On the phone with a widower last night, the reality and intensity of his pain was obvious. Does he believe his sweetheart is in heaven? Yes. Does he have the hope of seeing her again? Absolutely. But even after time, his suffering lingers and his lonely heart hurts and longs for her.
I love a line from the Sara Groves song What Do I Know?: “Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love and it comes and interrupts.”