Friday, March 09, 2007


We have recently lost a beloved family member, so my thoughts have been on death and the reasons for it. Centuries ago, people lived only a few decades. A man of forty was considered old. Throughout the span of years, better nutrition and improved health care has lengthened our lifespans. In today's world, there are many that live to be over one hundred years.

The person we lost, a dear brother-in-law, was in his early eighties. I suppose one could say that he lived a long life and a good life. But that doesn't really help matters when death strikes someone close to you. No matter how long they have lived, one always wants to keep them around a little it an hour, a day, a month or a year.

I can remember when my husband was terminally ill, I felt a great deal of anger. I resented him for dying, leaving me behind to face the world. I resented God for not halting his painful path toward death. After all, if God is all powerful, a crook of his little finger could give a person a few more years. I remember holding my anger inside me and venting it when I was alone, with tears, with rage, with deep depression.

One of the things I have never mastered is acceptance. I find it difficult to accept change. I question it, rail against it, confront it. It is as though I believe terminal illness is all in the mind and, if a person fights against it hard enough, it will be defeated. So I served my husband milkshakes laced with vitamins of all kinds, sat him in his wheelchair when he was strong enough to sit, and encouraged him to battle his disease with a bright, optimistic outlook.

He did not win that battle. After months...perhaps years...of anger and depression, I learned to accept what I could not change. But I do envision years when the dark cloud of death will be staved off for many more years, when lifespans will stretch even further, when these dread diseases will be stamped out like a burning match underfoot, when the Golden Years will not begin to glow until the hundredth year has been attained.

Years ago, I went to a funeral for a 14-year-old girl. The parents were deeply religious. In fact, the father was a minister. They greeted all comers with a bright smile and said they were "celebrating" their daughter's entrance into Heaven.

I have never attained that status. I waver. I question. I doubt. I try to use common sense to mix with faith, and let me tell me, common sense just doesn't mix with it. It is like trying to mix oil and water, it just swirls about in glowing blue and green shadows.

I will admit I have trouble understanding God. If he is so all-Powerful, why do children die? Why do horrible viruses lurk to attack humans? Why do horrifying events fill every newspaper. Some folks have told me that this has nothing to do with God, that this is done by people. But, since God made people, it seems he could make a few adjustments. As I said, just a crook of that omnipotent finger.

Well, these are deep, dark thoughts, and I must go order flowers. The last time I ordered flowers, I paid nearly two hundred dollars for the most puny, pathetic vase of blooms I have ever encountered. We have, it seems, made a great business of death. It costs thousands for burial. Of course, we have to have shining, polished caskets, as if it matters. After all, we're dead. You could toss us in a burlap bag and we wouldn't care. Then the casket is placed at the front of a room, flowers placed strategically around, while a minister or priest drones on for about an hour, and the families weep. It's dreadful. Finally, the cluster is repeated at the cemetery, another prayer or two, and everyone can go home or to a lunch or wherever.

But, as one ages, friends and family members pass on, if you yourself are fortunate enough to stay alive to see it. Funerals become one of your few social outings. After paying respect to the dead and comforting the widow, one settles into a chair to talk. Sometimes I think there is more social activity in a funeral home than in a K of C Hall.

But, in their own peculiar way, funerals are comforting. They give grieving family members something to take their minds off their loss. They give folks a chance to show their love and respect for the dead. And, more importantly, the gathering of folks around you that are there to show their support is worth more than money.

Once again, I will attend a funeral, cry over the loss of someone who meant a great deal to me, then face a world far emptier because of it. That world is getting smaller, as old friends and family pass on. One of my dearest friends, Eileen, died a few months ago. We were in high school together. As the song to be played at her funeral, Eileen requested "My Way." As the strains of that music filled the funeral parlor, I could not help but remember how often Eileen had not done things her way. In fact, most of her life was filled with service to others. There was little time left for her way.

So, our lives go by, more fleetingly than young folks understand. Few of us can honestly say we did things our way. We simply lived, breathed, and did what we had to do. If we didn't do it right, then blame it on God. He cut the pattern and sewed it up. If the hemline is ragged and the garment doesn't fit, he could easily fix it. We ourselves can only try.