I didn't know what to do with that information at the time. I don't remember what I did the rest of the evening until that phone call and Aunt Ruth walked into my Dad's bedroom where I was "sleeping" on a cot since my aunt needed the other twin bed in my brother's and my room since she had come to live with us three months earlier when Mom had surgery. I remember sitting on Dad's bed with my arm around him. I don't remember whether he had his around me or not. In an error of thinking we didn't wake my 10-year old brother. Wait until morning was my aunt's thought. My Dad said nothing. They were married less than 18 years. She was only 48.
That was 50 years ago. More than her lifetime ago. Eighty percent of my lifetime ago.
Today I am more familiar with death than I was then. As a pastor I have officiated at hundreds of funerals. I have attended countless others of friends and family of friends. I have no better understanding of death today than I did then. I just know it better. Or do I?
Perhaps what I know better today is life. I am awed by its wonders; shocked by its dangers; stunned by its very existence; surrounded by its abundance; mystified by how easily we can deny its presence.
I am also more aware of where we stand in relation to all this- and the answer is in community, family, friendship, relationship. In spite of the many ways death creeps into our lives- and we assist it, unknowing creations that we are- life is found within and around us all.
Over the last week or so, a CNN faith blog post, What people talk about before they die, has been making the rounds. The writer, a hospice chaplain, echoes my personal experience. But for this post I want it to be seen as what we, the living, also need to talk about when he face the loss that death gives us. For we, too, are dying. We, too, need to reach out in the same way for the lifelines that God has given us.
Here is some of what struck me about that post- and fits so well for me today, 50-years later:
Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally. ... We don't live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends. ... This crucible of love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.
We don't learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it. It's not to be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues or mosques. It's discovered through these actions of love. If God is love, and we believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.