My Psalm 80
The Faith in Goodbye
I remember when my grandmother suddenly died. My two children were both under the age of four and driving to pick them up at day care that day, I worried and then prayed about what I was going to tell them. I stopped at a stop light and suddenly realized I should do what I always did. I should not assume they thought like an adult but simply answer what they asked. After all, they did not see her every day and had no reason to specifically ask about her. I figured I would have at least twenty-four hours to get my own grief worked out. I walked in feeling better than I had in the past seven hours since she had passed away. I would greet them, hug them, and we’d go home just like any other day.
Sitting at the same stop light where I had figured out what to do, heading home, my oldest suddenly asked: “Where is my Granny?” I had a ready answer for “How is Granny?” I would simply reply “She’s is feeling fine” because, after all, no one hurts in heaven. My darling child, however, asked the sixty-four dollar question man has been asking about death for all of time. Claiming I needed to concentrate on traffic and driving, I said we would discuss it at home and started singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”.
The conversation we had at home, the conversation I had dreaded all day long, proved to be the most cathartic experience of my entire life. I told them she had died which meant her physical body that got cuts and scrapes had worn out but that her personality and soul was very much alive in heaven with God. I told them that we could visit her in our hearts but not in person. That night they said their grace at supper and added a hello to their Granny.
The following Sunday at church our rector knelt down to my oldest and said he had heard her Granny had gone on a long, long trip. Stunned because I had told him about our wonderful explanation and conversation about her death, I simply stood there holding my child’s hand. Said child looked at me and then at the rector. She responded: “Her died. Her’s in heaven.” The rector shook his head saying that no, her great-grandmother was just on a very long trip. Again my oldest replied: “Her’s dead. Her’s in my heart (hand over her heart), and her’s in my mind (hand touching her forehead), but her’s dead.” Once more the minister told her she was incorrect, that our beloved grandmother was merely on a long trip. My child, known for being a bit precocious and not fearful, released my hand and put both of hers on her hips. “You got her address on that trip?”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that a favorite theme of mine is that our faith and spirituality should give us strength. At no time is one’s belief system ever more present and needed than when facing death – no matter the manner, expectation, or timeliness of it. My grandmother had lived a long life and died with little pain. She outlived her husband by nineteen years and was ready to meet her Maker and be reunited with her husband and other family members. It still hurt; it still left me feeling bereft; I still grieved. Faith, however, was the process by which I was able to continue, to move forward, and to live that life she wanted me to live.
Recently, the world dealt with receiving the news of a much-loved actor’s suicide. Whether it is by suicide or by accident, by a lingering illness or by a sudden, swift physical event, death is always traumatic. There is the shock, even when somewhat expected, which is usually followed by anger. Regardless of how a loved one dies, their passing often leaves a legacy of guilt, those shoulda, coulds, woulda thoughts based upon “If only”. Whether the result of something like cancer or suicide, the death of someone we valued usually leaves us in despair for not being the superhero that saved them. The resulting loneliness and sadness of the loss can lead the ones left behind down paths of negativity, crippling despair or collapse.
Having a deep-rooted faith can be the strength for moving forward. Reaching out to people is vital. Having a support system is required for daily living but especially when dealing with loss. Just as each one of us is our own person, we all grieve differently. For me, when confronted with the minister saying unexpected things, it was to be that courteous, respectful young lady my grandmother had encouraged me to be. For my child, it was a somewhat sardonic retort that reaffirmed the faith that said grandmother was in heaven.
My children did a much better job of dealing with reminders of my grandmother than I did for that first year following her death. They saw each reminder as a sign from heaven that she was still with us. Children have their own wonderful sense of timing. They instinctively know when to move quickly, like in line for a snow cone, and when to drag one’s feet, like when it’s time to take off that favorite t-shirt and go to bed. They had no qualms about missing their great-grandmother. Their honesty in their grief and their joy in their remembrances were a life lesson for me.
The old farmer proudly displayed the wooden box his grandson had made for him in his shop class. “This is for my seeds” he explained. “I got four trays that all fit in nicely.” The farmer knew that just because it seems as though life has gone, much still remains. Child is father or mother to the man. When our friends and family pass on, they will be missed but more importantly, they will be remembered. Their presence on earth, like our own presence on earth, was and is a seed for the future. We carry on in their name according our beliefs, making their memory a legacy for tomorrow.
My Psalm 80
Mankind is an orchard and we are each one tree.
Our orchard cannot exist without other trees
Yet not all will live to bear fruit.
Restore us to community, Lord,
When one withers away.
Restore us to good health when we stumble.
Grant us your comfort when needed, O God.
Heal us with your love;
Teach us to move on.
Some provide fruit;
Some provide shade;
Others will become the fertilizer for the soil of our growth.
Let our faith bear fruit
And the World bear witness to your glory.