“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
There’s nothing like a small taste of human mortality to really put things back into proper perspective. Now, while I may not be a spring chicken anymore, I’m certainly not “old” either. At least by my own calculations anyway. But when you attend the visitation of someone who is about the same age as you it’s next to impossible to walk away unchanged from the experience.
Last night we drove an hour south to go to the visitation of a woman I’ve never met before in my life. Her husband drives in the same demolition derby circuit that Sean does. So really, we were driving down there to see a man I’ve only met once, maybe twice. When my son asked why we were going I told him, “It’s a social convention that we do when someone dies. You go and you visit the people that they left behind in order to let them know that you care and that you feel sad for them. And from my own point of view, it really does make you feel better knowing that the person who has died and left you behind meant something to these other people that show up.” A few minutes later, as politely as he could muster, he said, “Mommy, no offense…. to anyone involved… but…. those things….. ummmm…. they’re really boring.” I chuckled, “Yeah Buddy, I know. They’re boring for us too. But we still do them.”
A few hours later we were all piled together in the car. The atmosphere was almost jovial as this was the most family time we’d had all week!
When we got to the funeral home and found the line, we were still a little on the punchy side, the kids more than Sean and I. Bored, Anna asked to go look at the flowers so I took her over to them. As we looked at each bouquet we came to a small table with a basket of seashells. Next to it was a small sign that explained how Mandy had loved the seashore and asked that we please take a shell in remembrance of her so that her legacy could live on.
Mandy was a wife of one, and a mother of two. She had dark brown hair and a smile that just went on for days. Five years ago she was diagnosed with cancer, fought it and went into remission. Then in March of this year she went in for her check-up and came out with another diagnosis of cancer, terminal stage 4. She went on hospice in October and was determined to pass away in the quiet of her home. She said that she didn’t want a lot of people around, and to my knowledge, there weren’t.
As we made our way to the front of the line to shake hands with her husband, he told us about her passing, and how he held her as she crossed over from his hands into the hands of Jesus. With a catch in his throat he said, “I know that she’s with Jesus, but right now that doesn’t seem to be helping…”
After offering our continued support in anything he might possibly need we silently stepped away and made our way back out to the parking lot. I held on to my husband’s arm a little tighter on the way to the car. Solid and assuring, yup, he’s still here.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to bury a spouse (on your birthday no less).
As I’ve gone about my day today I can’t help but think back on the events of yesterday and marvel at what took place. We went because “it’s what you do” and to “make him feel better”, but we brought home so much more than what we took. We didn’t leave that room empty handed. We have shells, fragments of a friend’s pain. The Bible says that we’re to bear each other’s burdens and that’s exactly what we did. We went and brought home a part of this burden he’s been given to bear, a cross of his own, if you will. But he doesn’t carry it alone, none of us do. Even when it feels like it.
But the funny part of the whole thing is that although it is a burden that brings him tremendous pain, by sharing in it, it brought Sean and I gratitude. Last night we held each other tighter, kissed each other just a little longer, still here, still very much a part of each other.
All too often we take that for granted don’t we? We take each other for granted. We get so used to someone always being there that when we’re suddenly faced with the reality that they might not always be there we reach out in panic; fearful that maybe they’re not anymore. And then with grateful relief we sigh when we find their steady heartbeat is still there next to ours.
In His last words on earth Jesus reminded us that He would always be with us, to the end of the age. I’m just now realizing that that’s where I’ve been these last few weeks, “off”, taking for granted the steadfast love and forgiveness of my Savoir who is always with me and who has promised to never leave or forsake me. And that’s what Sunday was all about, me reaching out to Him to touch His sturdy solidness to make sure that, “yup, He’s still there”. Not that I doubted it for a minute, I just needed to touch base, so to speak. And in the awesome way that only He can, He touched me in return; powerfully. I am so grateful for His presence in my life!
In today’s Word of the Day, we read about Jesus receiving the message that Lazarus is ill and His reply, “This illness does not lead to death.” Just like Lazarus, Mandy’s illness didn’t lead to death; it led to eternal LIFE where she has joined the great cloud of witnesses in the arena as they watch those of us that have yet to finish the race.
Last night I thanked Mandy for the gift she gave Sean and I, the blessing of sharing a burden. I pray that we will bear it well.