“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.” Wisdom 3:1
The loneliness was so intense it was simultaneously choking her very ability to breathe while removing all the colors from the world she once loved to greet every time she stepped into her universe. Her young husband’s funeral was nice if such a word could be used to describe that kind of experience, and everyone seemed so helpful and supportive, but it was just overwhelming to face the awful truth that he was gone. In painful hindsight at the very raw and present moment, perhaps they should have adopted children, since they were unable to have their own, but just their ongoing discussions about that possibility seemed to bring them closer and closer together even up to that fateful afternoon in the doctor’s office when they heard that vicious and mind-drilling word together. Cancer.
It was more than aggressive and the only optimistic vantage point they could muster was that he was not going to last very long with all the obvious and expected treatments out of the question. And they were right, the specialists that is, with their kind but seemingly detached manner. “It’ll be important to keep him comfortable,” she kept playing over and over in her mind like a distant, wistful echo that sounded like a lost dog never to be recovered by its owners.
People were very good to her, mostly at the beginning. She loved their visits and the soothing tones of consolation in their voices but everyone has lives to live and after a handful of weeks, they slowly got back to those routines leaving her to deal with this burden the best she knew how. Her doctors wanted to prescribe anti-depression medication and while she may or may not have been entirely averse to the idea, she was getting very tired of the looks of pity and endless droopy eyes that seemed to be softly saying, “poor girl.” She had lived a full and great life, by all acceptable standards all the way around and perhaps that was part of the problem, that it had been without major issues or crises. Everything always seemed to fall into place except this new season of lost meaning.
Then, after the longest month she could remember, the anger began to set a hold on her heart and nothing was going to relieve this new darkness that previously escaped her personality and approach to life. Why wasn’t anyone else upset? Don’t they know how horrible this is? She just wanted to scream, and, on some occasions, she would, as long as she could into the dusty pillow that still retained faint aromas of his cologne.
“On this mountain, the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Isaiah 25:6
She never fancied herself as the kind of person who would go to the cemetery thinking that it was reserved for a much older, perhaps even wiser generation that must have known something that she did not. At first, she was going every morning, “such a long and empty trip,” she used to think and then they became less and less with even more anger and resentment building in her because according to her, no one cared that her entire life had been torn asunder and she was the only one who remembered. “What a miserable existence!,” she would think while catching herself agreeing with that nihilistic delusional teacher she once knew way back who believed that everyone loved life and hated death because, in his words, “life was a beautiful lie and death a painful truth.”
She would laugh to herself when she remembered her favorite comedian Robin Williams, who once said on The Johnny Carson Show that death was nature’s way of saying that “your table is ready.” Then there were twilight moments when after a nice cup of cinnamon tea, she would stare out into space with a blank look and a hint of a smile as she remembered their last vacation in London together. With tears still in her eyes, she would reflectively pause, thinking about an incident after dinner one night after they ran across a quote painted on a wall near Trafalgar Square which said something like “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
She had just crossed that bridge when depression turns to anger, then to denial and then back to depression again, with intermittent stops at self-pity and harsh, biting comments along the way. She was alone, she was always going to be alone, and no one, not even her closest friends who heard her cries for attention and meaning and comfort, seemingly did not even give it a second thought. Didn’t they love him? Don’t they care? How could they even laugh out loud, even at a good joke!?
Time began to slow at a death march pace and she was becoming sick and tired of being sick and tired. Her mind would drift in and out of happy memories coupled with the recollections of those last hours in hospice. “It must be true,” she thought. “We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone.” “At least, that’s how it feels,” she would mumble while wondering if she was going crazy talking to herself.
“Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Romans 5:1
Then completely without warning came that night, which may have been the last time she would ever lose a total sleep cycle under the moonlight wide awake as if she was in a theater with the anguish of emptiness sitting upon her chest like an elephant. She would push herself to shower, get dressed, and make the first few minutes of the dawn her stage for a dutiful sad cemetery visit. She would make his favorite french toast sandwich, wrapping it in a soft blue napkin that had been left over from a birthday party or something with the childlike hope that maybe a rabbit or squirrel would have it for lunch rather than be the meal and just leave it there. Her plan was brilliant and actually made her feel useful for a change as she turned down the flame from the stovetop and began to slowly wrap her breakfast creation. “Wow, this smells pretty good. I bet he’d like this,” she thought as she caught herself tearing up but then making haste to get to the car and drive those increasingly familiar miles to his grave.
The new day could not have been more than thirty minutes old and by the time she arrived, there was a fine, moist dew that spread across the beautifully manicured areas. “How silent, how picturesque, and yet how so horribly sad,” she thought. She was sure she was alone although there was a feeling as if someone else was there but she quickly dismissed the idea lest she begin to think the worst about the silent occupants of the graveyard. She retrieved her breakfast delight whose aroma had already filled her small sedan and heroically prepared herself for this visit while she could sense a blanket of peace and real acceptance finally and gently folding over her soul. The soft subtle colors of pre-dawn made everything so kind to her as if to warmly welcome her to a new life. It was then that she noticed a distinct other set of footprints in the dew-covered grass actually leading to and from the area where her husband was buried. Before unleashing her imagination, she spotted his temporary marker of a tombstone with something dangling from it. It was a sign with a flower attached. She read it deliberately but very gently and smiled.
“I miss him, too.”
“Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.” Abdul Kalam
True loneliness cannot exist as long as there is just one person left who can sift through the dark tears of emptiness and unveil the world for what it truly is, a place of hope and adventure, an ongoing novel with beginnings and endings in perpetual motion. It is like a colorful, vintage carousel that keeps revolving and turning, revealing with each rotational pass different creatures, colors, and music until, at the very end of a full and wonderful orbit of life, all the characters, and riders, and songs leave the trappings of time and make their way into the starlit sky of eternity like Elijah’s chariot of fire or the quintessential Christmas sleigh led by eight (or nine) lovely reindeer.
We don’t need to fear death because we don’t have to live forever. We just have to live.
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Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” John 14:1-4