Everything was just as she had left it: the dishes, the books, the shoes, the clothing, the water glass,… Her house wasn’t “messy”; it just had “signs of life”, “traces of her”.
This has been one of the longest weeks.
An especially close friend and neighbor died unexpectedly of a heart attack early Monday morning. There was no warning. She was active, ate healthier than most, and wasn’t particularly old.
The funeral was yesterday, and the reality of her passing has sunk in. Our neighborhood, and especially our Christmas parties, will never be the same.
I was shocked when I received the call that morning, and later in the day when her daughter stopped by, eyes red as evidence, I still could hardly believe it. It seemed so unreal. But Tuesday morning, when I went over to her house and she wasn’t there, there was no denying the truth… My friend is gone.
Sitting on the floor in her bedroom, flipping through her Bible and journals, looking for suggestions of “her favorites” (poems, verses, quotes) that might be helpful or comforting to those left behind who would attend the funeral, I saw private confirmations of the character and inner beauty that everyone who knew her saw so plainly in public.
Then later, as I went back upstairs to clean up the telltale signs left behind by the EMTs, evidence of what had occurred in those predawn hours of the previous morning, I couldn’t help but notice…
Her world was not so different from mine.
One item in particular caught my eye, and the way it had obviously been one of the last things she had touched, stopped me in my tracks. That could have been mine. This could have been my house, my bedroom. This could have been me.
I remember Handsome telling me that after he rushed down to be with his dad at his mom’s death, how hard it was to return to the house from the hospital and find all the packaging and plastic tabs scattered over the kitchen floor. My husband cleaned it all up; so his dad wouldn’t have to… and now I was giving this same gift to my neighbor’s family.
This small act, it needed to be done, but in some ways, I wanted to postpone it forever.
It felt keenly significant: the clearing away of the evidence of an event, the first of the cleaning that would wipe away her fingerprints from this earth.
Slowly, slowly, the dishes she washed would be put back in the cabinet, used, and washed again. Little by little, the books would be closed, put away, given away. Bit by bit, the clothing would be washed, the jewelry passed on, etc., etc. …until the closet would have only his clothes and the bathroom would have one less toothbrush.
As I returned to my house, I saw my world differently. What if I couldn’t reach out and touch my world anymore? What if I couldn’t turn another page, lift another item, write another word…? What would I do now if I knew I could not do it tomorrow?
For a moment I imagined myself as Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol “walking abroad among his fellow-men” as a ghost because his spirit did not do so in life.
Much of my life, I live distracted, too busy with living to really appreciate being alive. Funerals, like the ghosts of Christmas, offer me a moment of clarity and command me to open my eyes and see the past, the present, and the future.
I’ve delayed in posting too many of the blog-entries I’ve written over the past year. Some felt too deep, too personal. The thought of clicking “publish” seemed to compromise them in some way. And, with the delay, I’ve lost a bit of my voice. So, I’m going back, re-reading, remembering, and sharing… without much editing.
This is one of those “dear to my heart” memories. It was written in stages… So, bear with the transitions.
As I prepare for a medical procedure next month, I’m touching my world in the most intentional ways. I’ve bought a journal of questions for mothers to answer for their children, and I filled it in as best I could. I’m writing out prayers for my family. I’m putting my house in order to better live today and tomorrow.
The weekend before my friend died she attended a women’s conference where she was asked, “How do you want to be remembered?” (… by your husband, your children, etc), and “Praise the LORD”, she took the time to fill in her answers.
As she penned her thoughts, she had no idea that two days later she would be taken from her family. How precious those words are to her loved ones! They treasured them and hung on every word.
And, I asked myself, “What do you need to do?”
What do I need to write?
What do I need to say?
If you’re reading this, you are ALIVE. You can touch your word. You can kiss your husband, wrap your arms around your children, call your parents, attend that Bible Study, start that prayer group, clear off the night stand, wash the laundry, take a walk, breathe in the cold winter air, listen to a moving song,…
After the funeral, family and friends descended upon their home. They came to comfort, visit, remember… It was an untimely reunion. I was exhausted from the events of the week. It wasn’t even my mother or my spouse, but I longed to have the house empty. I didn’t want anything moved. I wanted everything to stay the same, just as she had left it.
I know it’s not possible.
Life goes on.
As my friend’s family begins passing out belongings to the relatives that would appreciate them and deliver the rest to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Interfaith thrift stores, I remember Handsome’s comforting words,
“Her fingerprint are all over her children.”
As much as her physical prints will be slowly wiped away from this world, there is something eternal that lasts. Just as the opening of a door in the basement causes a change of pressure that sweeps through the house, as a stone thrown into a pond sends ripples that circle on and on, as a plane flying over head creates unseen waves that sound and echo, as yesterday light from a distant star reaches my eye today, … my friend’s death is not the end of her influence.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24
Her life, my life, our choices, our words, our love makes a difference.
Oh, to live! Oh, to stay awake in the fog of culture, to be alert, to live well!
I have a calendar app on my phone that shows me the number of days until an up-coming event, but it also tells me the number of days since an event. — Thanks to this feature, I recently celebrated being alive for 15,000 days. — My dad shared with me this equation that he writes in his daily calendar:
X – (number of days I’ve been alive) = 0
For example, on the 15,000th day since my birth, for me the equation would have read:
X – 15,000 = 0
If X = the number of days the LORD has written for me (“…and in Your book were written all the days ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Psalm 139:16), there will come a day when that number minus the number of days I’ve lived will equal zero.
“LORD,make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am.” Psalm 39:4
“Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
LORD, You know what the future holds and how much time I have left here on earth. Thank You for making me aware of the brevity of life. Help me to leave “fingerprints”, not so much on things but on people, that will be a blessing and last for eternity.