Monday, July 20, 2009

And a PostScript

Not to intentionally begin any deep theological conversations via this blog, but in light of the post I just wrote, I also wanted to share this as well. The words in the previous post, although they were found among Mom's things and were, I believe, words for us from her, were taken out of their original context. They were, in fact, penned by Henry Scott Holland, but it is important to read them in their original context, because what they say about death OUT of context is very different from what his original intent was. Being trained and schooled on the importance of context during my time in seminary, I feel that I should follow up with those of you who are interested in deeper musings on death. But first, if these words do provide comfort for you in this life that is full of uncertainties and mysteries, I encourage you to consider thinking about them and talking about them. Death is something about which we dance around all too often, afraid to stop and stare it down lest it strike US down. Death is not to be feared, for we believe that the ultimate victor is not death, but a God who loves and creates and ultimately redeems that good creation.

If you'd like to read the words IN context, feel free to do so here:

I found an alternative that is equally comforting, and yet more "theologically sound," if you will. They were written by another theologian, a hymnist by the name of Christopher Idle. Pastorally, Idle doesn't like to use Holland's words at a funeral, because, in his opinion, they "speak things that are not true that need to be unsaid fairly quickly afterwards." And yet pastorally, he doesn't want to refuse to use the words either, because people like them for the comfort they offer, and Idle doesn't want to refuse needed comfort at a difficult time. So in response to Scott Holland's problematic words, Idle has written his own alternative that I now offer to you as well.

Death is sometimes our enemy, sometimes our friend.

As an enemy, it may shatter our lives, cut short our time, diminish our families and circle of friends.
We do not often invite it to come, nor choose the time of its arrival. I
n this world we do have enemies, the Scriptures says death is the last.

Yet for the Christian, even death has lost its sting; Christ has made it a friend in spite of itself. I
ts victory is empty; its triumph will soon pass; it cannot have the last word.
But it may still become our helper; not only a milestone but a signpost. I
t may lead us back to God if we have wandered away, or towards him if we have often been distant.

Death is a time for listening. Listening to friends, reading their words, listening to memories, hearing their music, listening to God in the quiet of my heart.

Death is a time for speaking. Telling the joys, memories past, telling of hopes, partly fulfilled; telling of growing and travelling, learning and finding, laughter and tears, a time for talk and a time for stories.

Death is a time for silence. When the words fail, sitting alone or quiet with my friends, watching or waiting, thinking and looking, the silence of prayer.

Death is a time for loving. Love never fails, love to the end; love all who love me and those who do not; love to heal wounds, love to accept, love to build bridges, love to forgive and know I’m forgiven. Love that is from God; God who is love; God who has first loved me.

Regardless of which words resonate with you, which words comfort you, which words are "closer" to "T/truth," all is still well.

And all is well.

A Word from Mom

It's been almost four weeks since Mom moved from this life to the next, and life is resuming some sense of normalcy for us all. Dad is doing well, and the three of us (Tom, Calli, & me) are doing our best to attend to him as needed, and even pamper him a bit. He continues to enjoy the cards and phone calls--they give him breaks in the long days and a bit of time to enjoy the relationships that have carried him through these difficult weeks and months. So keep them coming!

I wanted to share the following with each of you. We found these words by Henry Scott Holland paper-clipped to Mom's will as we were cleaning and sorting through "important papers." Clearly she wanted these to be her last earthly words to us. I shared it with folks at the Dublin service, and wanted to share it with each of you now.

Death is Nothing At All

I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort,
Withouth the ghost of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near, just around the corner.

All is well!

Indeed, my friends. All is well.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Other Side

(The picture to the right is of Mom and my brother Hunter, who died on July 11, 1996 due to complications from AIDS. We all take comfort in knowing that they can, once again, share a special embrace.)

It's not that the emotions or the need to pound them out have disappeared now that we are on the "other side" of our journey with Mom. For sure, the need to write, the intensity of the feelings, and the depth of gratitude are all still there in full force. I'm still pondering why I've not felt inclinced to write, honestly. I miss my mom, but I am enjoying my own breath again. I have treasured these past four or so months, indeed the past two years of our daily hugs and visits since they moved to Decatur. But once her health began the rapid decline--in early to mid-May, it was so hard to see Mom unable to enjoy the people and the relationships that have always given her the life, breath, and meaning she loved so much in this life.

We had a beautiful service for Mom in Decatur, with a packed sanctuary--close to 250 people, I'd say. That's amazing to me, given that she & Dad have only been here for less than two years. Granted, there were many folks who were here for Joel & me, as well as for Calli & Tom, but I was still quite shocked at those who came out to celebrate her life and to support us in worship. The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed, a longtime friend of Joel's & mine, conducted a beautiful service, and the women at Rehoboth hosted an amazing reception for us all afterward. The next day, we traveled to Dublin to bury a portion of Mom's ashes, as requested, in Northview Cemetery. There were only immediate family present for the burial, after which we went to Henry Memorial Presbyterian Church for the second memorial service. Again, a packed sanctuary, with an amazing homily by our longtime family friend, Rev. Frank Beall. Proctor Chambless also did a wonderful job with his selection and reading of scripture, as well as his overall pastoral presence. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for those two pastors--who loved Mom as much as the rest of us--to lead the worship service in gratitude for her life, but they did a fantastic job.

We returned home to Decatur after the service, and were treated to a catered dinner by some neighborhood friends, then began to settle, once again, into a new reality.

Dad is doing well, all things considered. The irony of how healthy he now is, given the reason behind their move to Decatur was so that Mom could have some help and support as she cared for HIM, never escapes me. I am grateful for his continued health, and realize in hindsight that he is as healthy as he is due in large part to Mom's wonderful care of him over these 59+ years. In true Tommy fashion, he is busy "taking care of business" in these dark days--changing accounts, checking on insurance, re-titling the car, that kind of thing. It is good for him to have something on which to focus. My brother Tom has been here since Saturday, so that helps with the potential loneliness as well as with the nagging household tasks that still seem so overwhelming to him--watering plants, preparing meals, doing laundry, sweeping floors, etc. Tom leaves on Sunday or Monday, and Calli returns for a few days.

The darkness of the anniversary of Hunter's death on July 11th will be slightly different this year, given that we will be resting in the knowledge that he has our sweet Attee "with him" this year. We will all be here on Sunday the 12th to celebrate Dad's 81st birthday in grand fashion, then I suspect at that point we will begin to live into a "new normal."

It will not be easy, but I daresay that it will be easier knowing that Mom is no longer struggling to breathe, to sleep, to rest, or to love. She is still with us, and will continue to be a part of our lives. Always.