Reflections

There has been a death in the family

Eleanor Deckert

Dreaded words to say out loud.


Every part of my plans for the next few days have to be broken or rescheduled. I prefer the least said, but everyone wants to know more. Quickly I form a pat answer, quick facts, no emotion.

Meanwhile my heart is like a ping-pong ball: shock (how could this be?), relief (they are out of pain), inner turmoil (what do I believe about life-after-death?), fear (when will it be my turn?), longing (I can't stand to think of my life without this person), stress (family dynamics being what they are), glorious angelic choirs (or stars in the sky, or foam on the waves, or whenever I see a butterfly....).

Travel plans, or the disappointment of not attending? Religious traditions, or 'a celebration of life'? Allowing myself to moan and cry, or bottling it all up?

As the day approaches for so many to gather together to say goodbye to one person my mind covers a lot of territory. My sister believes in reincarnation: what is she thinking? My daughter says she's an atheist: what is she thinking? My mother is Born Again: what is she thinking? My brother married a Catholic, but is non-practicing himself: what will they talk about? My relatives are Swedenborgian: how will they interact with all of these people of other faiths?

How will we comfort each other when we all have different vocabularies? Different texts? Different views of "the beyond"?

While I drive, my memory supplies many pictures - outings and holidays, birthdays and pets, jokes and tears, the span of time and the fact that there is no more time.

Like my fingers allowing sand to sift away, or water to spill out of my cupped hands, there is simply no more time.

I become heavily aware of my unfinished business. Who is mad at me and why... Who I am mad at and why... Is it worth holding onto the grudge? How could I possibly back out of this deep ditch? Build a bridge? Soothe or wash away or open up or cool off the old pain?

I cannot travel to attend. Email supplies contact, texts and songs and prayers that will be shared in a far away place. It is strange to feel the ache without hearing the voices or collecting the hugs.

Memory supplies comforting verses I memorized as a child. For the deceased: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (Num. 6: 24-26)

For the most immediate family: "God himself will be with them, he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4)

To the young who are experiencing the death of a family member for the first time: "The Lord gives power ... and strengthens the weary. Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary..." (Is. 40: 29-31)

To those who may be unfamiliar with Christian beliefs: "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”

even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from you, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to you. For you formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance being yet unformed, and in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand. When I awake, I am still with you." (Psalm 139)

To those who fear the unknown: "If you [then] know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him." (Matt. 7: 11)

I know the agony of walking away from a grave. It is so final. And so, to comfort my own heart, this parting word:

"The Lord watch between me and you while we are apart one from another." (Gen. 31: 49)

There has been a death in the family.