"In the midst of life, we are in death." With these words, the minister began the committal prayer for my mother's body. As I sat and listened, the sentiment grew within me that, while these words are true, there is a lot more to be said about death and how we brace ourselves for its impact.
To begin with the most obvious point: we prepare when we can. Mom had been in declining health for years and her decline had accelerated in the last twelve months. As she slipped away from us, her communications declined to just a squeeze of the hand and the whispered words "I love you." In my life, her love was fulfilled and complete.
Five days before Mom passed out of this life, my cousin Greg lost his long-running struggle with high blood pressure and kidney failure. Because we came from a small family, we for many years had developed a closeness more like brothers than cousins. Years and physical separation had attenuated those bonds, but when he went into one of his crises four years ago, I flew to Connecticut to ask him if he would accept me as a kidney donor. For reasons I'll never understand, he preferred to wait on a regular donation - which never came. I understood why he would not allow his sons to register as potential donors; they still had decades of productive life before them. I wish I could have persuaded him at least to let me make the effort to donate. Nothing might have come of it, but at least I would not now be nagged by pangs of conscience. If only I could have made him understand how much his presence in my life meant to me . . .
The impact of death striking those much younger than ourselves is something for which none of us can prepare. Two days after returning from Mom's funeral, the local newspaper headlined a story about the death of Meredith Legg Stapleton, a standout basketball player for the USC Aiken Lady Pacers. She had battled a particularly pernicious form of melanoma for five years. Eight days before her 27th birthday, it took her away from the loving embrace of her husband of sixteen months, her parents, a brother, sister, brother-in-law, one nephew, and two nieces. In the coverage of her battle against cancer, her faith and good cheer are perhaps the things that struck most of those who knew of her struggle. So perhaps when there is no other resort, we arm ourselves with as much courage as we can.
Now my family is wrestling with the unexpected death of Travis, my cousin Greg's oldest son. He had been fighting a viral infection when I saw him at his father's funeral, but his death blindsided all of us. He had been taking anti-depressants for some time and we fear he may have inadvertently taken an overdose. In the face of this unrelenting onslaught, what defenses can we build?
I'm further along toward old age than I like to admit. I've come to the conclusion that we can't armor ourselves against such a sea of troubles unless we remember that there is one thing stronger than death - love. As long as I can love, I can face the loss of some of those who are dearest to me. In the midst of death, we are in love. I hope I can remember to live the rest of my life in that same spirit.
Mom, Greg, Travis - I love you and always will.