Death's Press

In one of those I-can-see-clearly-now-the-scales-are-gone-Saint Paul-moments, the question pealed from his apostolic lips: O death, where is thy sting?  In that moment it was not so much question as taunt.  I understand, I get it.

But in my part-time-saint-John-moments of late, death's scales have been blinding.

In August, only two months ago now, my father-in-law died.  Over the course of a year, damned old cancer stole the gift of his life. Now, two months later, grief, real grief has begun to show up unannounced for the woman I love.  Oh, his name was John, same as mine.  In September, one of my father's best friends died; again, cancer.  This man was the janitor for the church where my father is pastor; it's probable that they saw one another and talked almost every day for 20 years.  Only days later, one of my father's favorite aunts died.  These September funerals fell on the same day.  My parents, mortals that they are, could not be in two places at once; death made them choose their last respects.  Now, here in October, just this past weekend, a college friend's little 5 yr old daughter died; doctors are saying swine flu.  And then this week, another friend of mine experienced her aged mother finally slip beneath the surface of time.

Annie Dillard gently whispers: Write as if you were dying.


Death has not had a sting lately so much as it has pressed in close, making it hard to breathe.  Philosophers of old used to keep a skull on their desks, a daily reminder of our prescribed end, an app for that.

After the funeral-home-visitation for my father-in-law, we all went out to eat at an Arkansas-Irish-pub. It was one of the places John liked.  I sat among the family I've been grafted in over the last 19 years; their boisterous Catholic arms have always been open for the quiet Baptist...thanks be to God.  I closed my eyes a couple of times and listened to the voices, textures of sound I know well.  I kept waiting to hear John's voice, I wanted to hear him yell John David, which is what he always called me, but he never did.

There were a couple of John's earthly trinkets that I was given; one was a Montblanc pen.  I'm scheduled for a book signing this weekend at a big box bookstore in Co Springs - Mardel's - the antithesis of an Arkansas-Irish-pub.  I plan to use John's pen to sign books for the two or three that will probably gather there.  I may have to remind myself to breathe.    
 

15 comments:

  1. "Death has not had a sting lately so much as it has pressed in close, making it hard to breathe." - couldn't have said it better. And I thought I was the only one... 3 deaths in four months,one of those an old friend 33 ys old died 3 weeks after giving birth to her 1st daughter and fighting breast cancer at the same time, the latest being my last grandmother last week.
    all to say... yeah, I hear ya.

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  2. KR,

    No, you're not the only one...but it's easy to feel that way, huh? I've added your deaths to my deaths...even harder to breathe now, here in the valley of the shadow...

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  3. I'm so sorry, my friend.

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  4. For me it was Uncle, Father, Grandfather. I remember feeling like I might never breathe again. I have no words of comfort of my own, but I found some in a song by Bebo Norman, "It was not her time...this fallen world, it took her life. But the God that sometimes can't be found will wrap himself around you. So lay down, sister, lay down."

    That was seven years ago. I breath freely these days - mostly. I wear my fathers wedding band, on occasion I find myself spinning it - my chest tightens again and I remind myself to breathe.

    Peace and rest, John.

    Chris

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  5. John, you have courage my friend. Most would respond by self medicating so they don't feel the pain ....

    ..... but you are still feeling; traveling through this not so nice place without anesthetic.

    There is depth in that, God stuff which I haven't unpacked yet .... !

    Btw, Mark received your book. Thankyou! Your heart is a welcome influence.

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  6. With you in the valley of the shadow my friend. Thank you for sharing your journey. Peace.

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  7. as i read i smelled the anointing, John. the fragrance of death in these accounts fills my nostrils. all that love being loosed.

    yes, this week my broken mum slipped beneath the surface of time ... her last breath my first ... without her.

    i haven't forgotten to breathe this week. i've filled up with deep draughts, remembering her smell of love.

    DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
    For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
    Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
    And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
    Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
    Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
    And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
    And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

    - John Donne

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  8. Chris, thank you for your words of peace and rest. The image of holding on to your father's wedding band is powerful...

    Grace,

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  9. Sande, thanks. And I'm glad Mark received the book...first thing I've mailed that direction.

    Be well,

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  10. Gretchen,

    Those words mean a great deal coming from one we call 'friend'...

    Peace,

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  11. Mark, I feel your presence...usually always do.

    Gracias,

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  12. Laure,

    That other John's poem has crossed my mind many days of late...wee waking eternally...yes...

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  13. The woman you love has become very dear to my heart this past year. Your grief for the loss of her daddy touches my heart. It speaks to me of your love for her and makes me glad that you are there for her now.

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  14. John,

    I know the sting...my heart, my eyes, my mind..all of me, really, knows the sting.

    What sweet memories you have to ponder and what a sweet source of strength you are to your love...I know she's thankful.

    Hugs to both of you!

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  15. Interesting timing. I'm up too late again after a long day including a funeral. I drove almost 5 hours to be with my friend for 30 minutes. He died of cancer too and he was a year older than my husband.
    Strange how I've selfishly longed to be with the Lord, but the pain is for those who remain. I guess the "pain then is part of the joy now." I'm glad eternity is forever with no more pain.

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