Death Follows Life

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. ~Seneca, Roman philosopher

The dreary gray days of winter always seem to bring a flood of deaths.

Obituaries crowd the pages of our daily newspaper. Local funeral homes bulge with mourners paying their respects to the dying and doing what they can to comfort the left-behind family. Endless processions snake their way through town en route to one of the cemeteries.

None of us wants to think about dying, but let’s be realistic. We don’t get out of here alive. And before we go, chances are we’ll have to attend a wake or two. So what’s proper to say at a visitation to those who are grieving … and what’s not?

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Dangers of Glass

Painful though parting be, I bow to you as I see you off to distant clouds. ~Emperor Saga, 52nd emperor of Japan

birds

Two birds playing on a sunny Spring day
Flew too close to a shiny glass building
And crash landed.
The closer one was merely stunned.
Sat on the sidewalk blinking and gathering its bearings.
The farther one wasn’t as fortunate
And lay on its back, feet skyward.
Maybe it hit the glass too hard.
Maybe it hit the glass wrong.
Maybe it wasn’t as physically strong.
A nearby maintenance fellow with a sack
Explained he’d already picked up several
Of the delicate creatures this week.
All were dead.
Shouldn’t man with his knowledge do better
Than construct buildings that attract wildlife
To their death?

Note: Did you know up to a billion birds die every year in the U.S. after colliding with windows?

One Last Goodbye

You’re in pain,

And I’m sorry.

I didn’t cause it,

Can’t absolve it.

I hate seeing you hurting.

Hate watching, helpless,

as you close off from the world

and those who need you.

Hate seeing the spark he so loved

seep right out from your soul.

Just know that I’m here

When you’re ready to talk

Or need a shoulder to cry on.

To reminisce over happier times

And sunny days.

How his eyes crinkled

When he told a joke.

How safe you felt

Wrapped in his strong arms.

How right it seemed

Spooning together through the night.

I know your house cries empty tears now.

If it’s any comfort, I miss him, too.

 

Note: When I wrote this, I was thinking of an older lady/friend of mine, who lost her beloved husband to cancer last year. Sometimes even our best intentions fall short, and all we can do is be there, when of course we’d prefer making it all better!

Another farewell

About two weeks before Christmas, one of my mom’s sisters suddenly collapsed on her kitchen floor after suffering  a massive stroke.
She was dead less than 36 hours later.
Once again, my family is experiencing grief and coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays (my dad passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2008).
Once again, our focus shifts from happiness and gift-giving and tinsel on Christmas trees to sorrow and funeral arrangements and tears.
The child in me screams, “Enough already! Turn Death off! He’s too cruel at this time of year.”
But nobody asked for my opinion.
Auntie M. was one-of-a-kind. Clean as a pin, she always had a dishrag in her hands, mopping up someone’s messes, toweling off her already-spotless counters.
Her kitchen was one of my favorite places. The smells wafting around there were enough to melt the cockles of the meanest heart — warm butter (a stick at a time), chocolate chip cookies (mine, without nuts), snow-white divinity, rich and creamy fudge, fig cake cookies (made from an old family recipe).
And you couldn’t get out of her house without at least one colorful round tin filled to the brim with some of those treats!
As if anybody would turn down goodies, fattening or not!
In her younger days, Auntie M. was quite a hoot. We kids would listen enthralled as she and her husband, my parents, and the other siblings and their spouses would gather with their mother (my grandma) around the kitchen table for a rousing game of penny poker.
Oh, the laughter! Oh, the chiding! Oh, sound of coins and cards hitting the table and ice cubes clinking in glasses!
Auntie M. also was quite the fisherwoman. She and her husband had a cabin of sorts along a lake (in addition to their family home), and they loved spending time reeling in fish, which she promptly battered and fried (more yummy smells!)
One of Auntie M.’s favorite expressions was “cotton pickin’.” Only years later did I realize it was her way of protecting us kids from some of the not-so-nice words flying from the mouths of my other relatives!
My mom talked to Auntie M. the evening before her collapse. She said she’d had a wonderful day visiting with her kids and their kids, and she was looking forward to getting together wih my mom over Christmas, to share a few laughs, catch up on old times, and do sisterly things.
It wasn’t to be.
While we mourn for the woman who left us, we rejoice that she’s no longer in pain, that she’s reunited with her beloved husband and parents, and that one day, we’ll see her again.
This is the hope of Christmas, that the Baby lying in the manger came to free us from death and draw us to Himself forever.
Merry Christmas 2010 to all my family and friends!

R.I.P., Declan

Shock, sadness, and anger are in the forefront today as word spreads about the death of a 20-year-old student at the University of Notre Dame.

Declan Sullivan, a junior film and marketing major from Long Grove, IL, was killed when the hydraulic scissor lift he was videotaping football practice from on Wednesday toppled over in 50-plus mph wind gusts.

This happened just before 5 p.m. EST. The young man was taken almost immediately to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

I didn’t know Declan; however, as the mom of one of his fellow students, I’m reeling from the news.

How could something like this happen? Where were the adults who were supposed to be in charge? Why was this student up on a portable tower 50 feet off the ground with sustained winds at 40 mph (when manufacturers of such an apparatus acknowledge they shouldn’t be used in winds over 30 mph)?

According to news reports, this kind of tower is used by all the major college football programs, as well as the NFL. At Notre Dame, I understand, one typically sits in each of the goal-line areas, in addition to permanent towers situated along the 50-yard line. Perhaps it’s time for a new, safer way to get a bird’s-eye view of practice?

Now everybody knows that, the higher up you go, the stronger the winds. And this was a wicked day, not fit for man or beast. In fact, earlier in the day, students were sent to basements and other safe places when tornado warning sirens blared out.

Football practice the evening before was moved indoors because of inclement weather. Shouldn’t it have been inside on Wednesday, too?

I can’t help shuddering when I think of the horrors this young man endured just doing his job that day. Reports indicate he posted online his trepidation at being on the tower in 60 mph wind gusts and called it “terrifying.”

Why did he stay up there??

A spokesman for the University told a news conference today that pep rallies and such have been canceled this week, but the game on Saturday versus Tulsa will go on in Declan’s memory.

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say what Declan would, or wouldn’t, have wanted. But I suspect it will be a subdued atmosphere, and winning (or losing) will have little to do with it.

Notre Dame officials assure us a full investigation will be conducted. That’s as it should be.

But the fact remains that this young man died way before his time. His grieving family, friends, and colleagues will need to band together, taking comfort from their faith and one another.

I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around on this one, but “blame” won’t bring Declan back.

Such a senseless tragedy.

Burial customs

The other day I was getting my hair done and casually mentioned we still need to “bury” my dad, who died last Dec. 31.

He was cremated, you see, and according to our parish priest, we need to put him in his final resting place — either a mausoleum or a grave — within 12 months or so.

My stylist was surprised to hear Catholics have so many “regulations” regarding death; didn’t I find that a bit stifling, she wondered.

Not at all.

Life is full of “rules,” or it should be. We learn as toddlers that it’s wrong to hit other people, to strip down to our “birthday suit” and race through the grocery store, to take what’s not ours, and to tell “falsehoods.”

As we grow, we learn more rules — not to drink and drive, to always wear our seatbelts, to never “kiss and tell,” to pay our taxes (preferably on time!)

Sometimes it seems as if we’re assaulted by rules at every turn.

But what kind of world would we have if we had no rules? Not one I’d want to live in.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Catholic Church began to permit cremations, and even then you had to meet certain specifications (burial of the body was still the preferred way of dealing with death).

Fast forward to today, when more than 20 percent of U.S. deaths end in cremation. It’s less costly, to be sure, than burial, though by the time you factor in the urn, the mausoleum, a plaque, etc., your costs are getting up there. It’s also a matter of personal preference — some folks just don’t like the idea of decaying or being placed underground.

Still, the Church looks on the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and believes that body will one day be resurrected; consequently, the body (even a cremated body) must be treated with respect.

Generally, what takes place is a vigil rite, or visitation, held at the funeral home or the church; followed by a Funeral Mass; followed by a Committal Service at the place of burial.

No scattering of ashes on land or sea, no placing the urn in the back of a closet or on a mantel, no transferring the urn from relative to relative.

It’s simple and orderly, really, when the rules are in place, and I find that comforting.

Celebrating Death

This isn’t going to be an easy day — shoot, it’s not going to be an easy month!

November typically is the time when we Catholics honor/celebrate/remember our deceased loved ones, starting with All Saints Day on the first and then All Souls Day on the second. The idea is that, by recalling and praying for our faithful dead on Nov. 2, we acknowledge them as still being members of our Church, alive in Christ, and never far from our hearts.

In some countries (Mexico, for instance), Day of the Dead celebrations are joyful ones, with special foods and colorful altars. Other countries hold to the folk belief that souls are released from Purgatory for one day and allowed to return to earth; consequently, some families leave a window open or set a place at table for their dead family members. Still others visit graves, sometimes with picnics. You can read more here: www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpenticost12ac.html

Last year at this time, I sailed blissfully through this holiday. Death hadn’t touched my family — other than elderly grandparents and some distant relatives — and, while we attended the required Church services and recited the prayers, it was all more of a ritual than anything else. Not so today.

This past Dec. 31, we lost my dad after a courageous three-year battle with esophageal cancer. Yes, he smoked cigarettes; yes, he drank liquor; and yes, according to his doctor, those bad habits were what killed him.

So tonight, we’ll go to Church carrying a picture of Daddy that will be left on a memorial table for the entire month. We’ll participate in a candle-lighting ceremony, recite the prayers, shed some tears, and probably hug each other a bit longer and tighter. We’ll also try to be kinder and more patient with others.

It’s what Daddy would have wanted.