Over the past few weeks, our family has spent too much time close to the veil that separates life and death. Most of the time we live as though our lives will be like this forever, as though life will never end. Times like this remind us that no one gets out alive.
I sat in silent awe as I watched four children gather around the bed and usher their mother into eternity. All of the life stuff, just stood aside as they loved her to the very end. They spoke tender words, tried to ensure her comfort, and simply stood vigil. Life slowed down as we watched and waited. The only things that mattered in that little room were breath and love. It was the first time I’ve ever been present in the moment of death. It was agonizingly long and astoundingly fast. Breath and no breath.
In hospital rooms and funeral homes it is suddenly clear. Death is a part of life. When a long ill loved one passes, and there are days and weeks of preparation, this process while difficult seems to make sense. In our culture, we try to separate death from life. The living go on as though they will never die, and the dying as though they never lived. In moments like these, the two worlds come together. Often, I think we feel unprepared to deal with death because we’ve lived as though it is not a part of life.
Later this week we heard that a young friend was in ICU with blood clots in his lungs. He is 23, newly married, with a child on the way. Although he will recover, the shock of this news brought another wave of grief and fear. We staggered under the weight of the shock. Parents and grandparents get sick and die, not children. We prayed and cried. For me, it was another moment when life and death came too close together. The vulnerability of it can be paralyzing.
It hasn’t been the most joyous holiday for us. We are mired in the grief and shock of loss. Life and death have touched in our lives. It’s okay. We are living through the loss. I don’t want to ignore it, instead I want to lean it and let us teach us to make this time count. This holiday is marred by loss, as many of them are. As we looked through family pictures last week, I couldn’t help but notice how many of our loved ones were already gone. This is the stuff of life and if we let it, it can teach us to live well, to make the most of the time we have.
So we give thanks. We give thanks for so much love shared, so much care expressed, so much time spent. We give thanks for the people we’ve loved who have passed away, and those who are still here. We give thanks for faith, hope, and love… and the greatest of these is love.