Category Archives: death

A long caravan of evenings.

Two of my friends fell asleep in death last week. One was a monk who was buried at his monastery some distance from here, and the other, John, was a member of our parish. His funeral was today, and I was able to attend it.

I’ve written a lot about funerals and death since my husband died, and am at the point where, though I continue to experience grief, these days the loss and its pain primarily show themselves as elements of the same stuff that every single human experiences, we who live as part of this creation that we also live in. The creation that is waiting:

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”  -Romans 8

John had been married to his wife for 64 years, since she was 18 years old. He had suffered great pain and disability for much of his life — his particular “stuff,” but while waiting for his full redemption, he was busy doing good works. Maybe his spirit was groaning for its deliverance from corruption, but he expressed his eagerness in generosity and encouraging words and cooking for people.

I was looking for a poem to post this evening, because I had no good story of my own to share. It turns out there was no poem at hand that would serve very well, but here is one from the archives that reminds us to keep on keeping on, through whatever losses we suffer. I’ll see you in the morning!

PASSAGE

And there was evening, humid
with lightning, when my father

fell to the earth like summer hail,
scattered. I gathered

my mother, we threw in
a handful of pebbles. And

there was morning, bitterly.
There was evening news

bluing walls, violet morning
on thunderheads, and the evening

when morning
would never again light our bodies in bed.

Morning caravans, headlights,
evening. A long caravan of evenings. Then

there was only me, morning. Awake in a room
in a building vast with rooms. Everyone

evening. Everyone morning. And God
had finished all the work he had been doing—

babies, honeybees, spreadsheets, winter
mornings. I said,

I will not stop here, evening. I’ll see you
in the morning.

–Thomas Dooley

We live in tents.

To be a Christian is to be a traveller… like the Israelite people in the desert of Sinai, we live in tents, not houses, for spiritually we are always on the move. We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time into eternity.

– Met. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way

It is less than a month since Metropolitan Kallistos reposed in death, and I ran across this quote from him, which is especially meaningful at this point in chronos time.

Memory Eternal!

I hear the doors clicking shut.

This morning I attended the memorial service for a dear woman whom I met on our first day in this county in which I still live. For some years our husbands were in leadership together in church, and in spite of a notable age difference we couples remained good friends for the whole 49 years leading up to now, when neither couple remains as a couple earthbound.

We used to make these friendship quilts.

Many of the people whom I saw today, I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, back when we were in the same homeschooling community. In some cases, it took a few seconds for us to recognize each other’s faces that were so familiar, though mysteriously strange at the same time.

As I was driving to the event I began to feel the weight of the accumulation of changes among all of us, especially the losses. After decades of living, we have racked up disappointments, heartaches and traumas. The days we lived back then, whether happy or sad, are not to be lived again. The “loss” of my friend Martha seemed to my melancholic mind a sort of culmination.

But once I arrived it was impossible to retain that melancholy; Martha’s love for God and for us continues to encourage us. Everyone I talked to knows “that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Even the ones among us for whom heartaches are fresh and ongoing spoke of this truth, and of the increases in grace and mercies they have known, and of their Blessed Hope. The last hymn we sang together was “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Friends from back then who are grandparents now.

It’s only been two years since I first posted the poem below, but I wanted it again today. Of course Martha is not a loss. She is one of whom Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” And as for those heartaches, etc. — it’s not over till it’s over.

EVERNESS

One thing does not exist: Oblivion.
God saves the metal and he saves the dross.
And his prophetic memory guards from loss
The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.
Everything in the shadows in the glass
Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you
Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew
Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.
And everything is part of that diverse
Crystalline memory, the universe;
Whoever through its endless mazes wanders
Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,
And only from the sunset’s farther side
Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

-Jorge Luis Borges
translated by Richard Wilbur

They trample on it.

On my drive home yesterday, I listened in turn to both of the books that our women’s book group will discuss soon. This passage from On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is one I’ve shared before; in its quiet way it reminds me of the enduring foundation of our Christian faith, that Christ has destroyed death. This is a thought and phrase that we Orthodox sing extravagantly every Pascha, but we don’t always act as though we believe it. St. Athanasius calls across the centuries to refresh our hearts by the witness of our brothers and sisters in the faith:

“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by the present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.”

-St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Holy Martyr Gordius of 4th-Centry Cappadocia is one of those who took a fearless stance regarding death. He is commemorated on January 3rd.