Two people I loved died last week. Both lived in Texas, in or around the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, where I went to high school and where my parents lived for over 20 years.
Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. The news came to me, in both cases, via a text message. In both cases, I whispered No. No. No no no no no no no….. I choked and tears flowed.
We push against the news of death, as if our desire to make it not-be-true might actually carry some weight. What else is there to say, but to shout No! To cry out a denial, to protest that This should not be happening?
My nephew by marriage – my kids’ cousin, just a few months older than my son Daniel – passed from this life to the next, the second chapter in a horrific story of loss. His older brother lost his life in a car accident a little over two years ago, and Brendon’s heart never mended. He lost his way, and his efforts to numb the pain led to an ending that broke all our hearts all over again. His twenty-one years were far too short. If you are the praying sort, you might remember his strong mama and his tender-hearted daddy, whose legs have little strength to stand after losing their boys. This should not be happening.
My friend and mentor, Jeff – a ‘door holder’ in my life who received an entire blog post in his honor – fell last weekend, for reasons unknown, and the subsequent injury took his life. Here was almost 70 years of family and love and music and business and travel and pride and joy; but the loss was still shocking and painful. This should not be happening.
I traveled to Texas to attend both funerals. My head was spinning. There to honor the lives and the families of those who had died, I also encountered other sorts of loss along the way that were personal and deeply felt. I came to understand, as I drove the 90 miles back and forth from Tolar to Grand Prairie, from Dallas to Granbury, just how disjointed and disconnected my life had been. There seemed to be few points of connection between the girl who went to high school smack dab in the middle of the metroplex and the one who moved to a small town to teach K-12 music. While in Grand Prairie, I talked with folks who’d been settled in the area for most of the past 40 years. They stayed home, they stayed connected. While in Tolar at Brendon’s funeral, I talked with men and women who were students there when I was teaching; now grown, with grown children of their own, they were still tied to the community and the town. They stayed home, they stayed connected.
I looked at my own life and realized that there was precious little staying home anywhere. These past 12 years that I have lived in Powhatan consist of my longest tenure anywhere in my life, other than my first 13 years in Pennsylvania (and I’ll pass that record soon). I’ve traded communities and friendships every few years; I’ve planted weak, shallow roots that have often grown quickly faded blooms and then been left to die, abandoned in search of better soil.
I’ve had very little roots, it seems. And yet there is this: I have had a sense of place and I’ve invested in people wherever I have gone; and so going back to Texas brought a certain sense of grounding to my soul in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time. It was, I think, a recognition of what it meant to come ‘home’ to a place that only bore that title for a limited time, with limited results. And whether or not the streets were familiar, even if I was struck by how much had changed, it was easy to find a few things to cling to, and to take away great gifts of remembrance. Mostly in the people.
There is a family, joined by grief, imperfect and dysfunctional. Mine is not the only divorce that has happened, but most of us gather; we come back, to do what we can to honor loss, to be present. We were family at one time; that counts for something. My kids share the same blood; there is connection there. We sing the songs of sorrow, we listen to the proclamation of hope in eternity, we embrace one another, we follow the ritual. We look and see a bit of our history in each other, glimpsing the passage of time in a more dramatic fashion than that which comes in day-t0-day living. We agree that this should not be happening, and we grieve. The grief washes over us all in waves, and we ride it, unsteady, together.
There is friendship – memories of school days, long ago. There is the history of friendship, mentorship; teaching and learning and a communal passion for music that soars and sings of secrets and mysteries beyond this life. Shared reminders: ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right’; challenges to ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ The snarky comments about the soprano section. Music, sung fresh, new, in real time – carrying the weight of a lifetime; nostalgia, notes and rhythms taught and internalized by 17-year-olds who had little idea what a lifetime meant.
The Lord bless you and keep you…the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace…
I sat through two funerals last week. In one, I played and sang music; in the other, I absorbed music. In both cases, I was fully engaged.
I wore the same black dress to each service. I was the same person, looking at a history of the different person I have been over the half-century of life I have lived. The disparate, disjointed bits and pieces came together in an odd fashion.
I went to two funerals last week. In being present to honor and respect the lives lived – even if, deep within the fault lines of my soul I continued to whisper this should not have happened – I found a small, slight glimmer of truth about my own life. I was present for myself; for my own history, the different places I have been, the different lives I have tried on like costumes in a photo booth. I inhabited all those places and found them filled with grace, for the girl I was, and for the woman I have become.
I found myself thinking this thought as I hovered over my journal this morning, pen in hand:
Out of death comes life.
I am not sure what I mean by that, exactly. But is there any other hope we might hold within our loss? Is there anything else we might strive to catch hold of, as our eyes turn towards the heavens?