In this season that my time is called for in places other than writing new posts, I've been following an idea my good Father gave me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once. I've discovered this practice allows me to keep praying the beads of memory in this sacramental life.
In the past few years, the first week of November has become a memorial week, appropriately ushered in by All Saints Day. One year ago during this week we said good-bye to our dear friend Trey. Five years ago this week I watched my friend Margaret say good-bye to her mother. I am grateful for the lessons I've learned watching dear ones grieve. Today's post is what I learned watching Margaret and her father say good-bye to Peggy.
on grieving again (originally posted November 14, 2009)
Our nation grieved the loss of thirteen soldiers last week. We lose soldiers all the time, but we sit up and take notice when they are lost on our own soil at the hands of one of our own countrymen. This waste of life haunts us and we try to figure out how to lament nobly and adequately without upsetting our entire emotional landscape.
My friend Margaret lost her mom this week. For over six years since her mom's diagnosis of ovarian cancer she has tried to imagine what these days would be like -- when would they happen, how would she respond, what would moving forward without her mom cost her family? I wonder if she'll really ever be able to answer those questions?
A week ago -- on a Friday morning -- we visited Margaret's parents, Toby and Peggy. We arrived at their home and tried to enter the reality of their long goodbye. We walked around their house and behaved as if we'd been invited over for a spaghetti supper -- noticing pictures on the wall, wandering around the space, making small talk. To me the whole house seemed lopsided, almost dizzying in its architectural imbalance. None of the weight of lovely furniture, books, china, or beloved piano could balance the floors that seemed to literally slope down the hall toward Peggy's bedroom. For many long months the entire center of their universe was located in that bedroom, their energies absorbed in the tasks of comfort and homely care, love and unexercised grief. It's as if the gravity of their weighty love drew us in. We walked the long hallway into Peggy's room and encircled her with hymn-singing, small talk, Scripture-reading, prayer, laughter.
We are rusty in our hymns, the four of us friends. But we worked through The Church's One Foundation, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and others, trying to read the old black notes moving up and down between sharps, flats and naturals on the page. We laughed to ourselves that we'd be in a position to sing these great old songs to the man and wife who'd mastered them their whole lives. Peggy was certainly humble to receive our gift with no look of horror at our missed notes in her lovely, large blue eyes. I noticed her eyes most when they were fixed on Toby while he spoon-fed her ice chips. I'm not sure I've ever seen such naked trust in an adult face before.
The whole love between this husband and wife -- its gritty, imperfect reality -- was far better than any movie story of love I've ever seen. I'm thankful I got to tell Peggy how much I'd learned from her dying. How much I learned about the value of long years with my husband. About the charity that suffers through horrors as well as delights. The charity that causes one spouse to sleep in a recliner chair next to his wife's bedside for night after long night. I also learned -- again-- the violence of death. The sturdiness of our insistence on living is one miserable bugger to someone who is suffering and ready to go to her true home. Everything is ready, everyone is ready but that body that insists on trying to cope with suffering and go on living. Eventually, death comes and does it grim work tearing families apart. I learn each time to embrace the glory of Christ's resurrection more.
I'm thankful for last Friday morning with Peggy and Toby and Margaret and Lori and Andrea and two-year-old Katie. Eventually we swum back out of the gravity of that room and walked back up the hall toward the piano. We sang more. I'm thankful for my new friend Brian Moss who gave us his sheet music to the Psalms that have been sustaining Margaret all these long days. We were asked again later that week to sing another Brian Moss song at Peggy's funeral. Between that and an old Don Wyrtzen anthem that Toby requested, once again, we novices felt humbled to sing for this musical family. And we slid back and forth between the extraordinary extremes of grieving and giggling at the absurdity of it.
Margaret, I'm saving up some funny stories for you. It's occurred to us that your mom might have been able to laugh along with our fumbling, stumbling attempts to sing for her family this week. I know the day will come for you to laugh, too.