Lessons from Death

“Yellow roses were her favorite,” my Grandpa says quietly as we enter the church. I can hardly stand to look at his eyes, so grief stricken, so tired.  Usually, my Grandpa is a jolly man if there ever was one. Even while my Grandma lay in their house, suffering with the cancer that riddled her body, he would offer his humor as a way of easing her pain. “I just try to make her smile these days.”

The grief I have right now is not for the dead. My Grandma is not in any pain right now, and will never be again. She is not suffering in confusion at this point. She is in a place filled with joy and peace. I am relieved for her. I will miss her at family gatherings, and even going to her house after saying final goodbyes – I almost expected to see her. But I cannot be sad for her.

My grief is with the ones left behind, namely my Grandpa. I can hardly write this without tears, but I think it needs reflection. Grandpa insisted that the picture placed by her urn be her high school picture. It was a picture I had never seen before, and it was a good choice. This is the girl he fell in love with, over 50 years ago. Young, beautiful, bright with life. As I watched him look at that picture, I remember seeing that look another time very recently. He was watching her in her bed, asleep from the dose of pain medicine she had been given. And I wonder, when he looked at her, did he see what I saw or did he see his young, beautiful bride?

How do you console a man who has just lost his partner of over 50 years? His life’s companion. You live with someone for most of your life, longer than even your parents. You have a bond that is hard to explain and difficult for others to understand fully. You live together through so many things, many happy, many painful. Either way you live to see another day together until the most painful moment comes. Her death.

I watched my great aunt walk in the church, who recently lost her husband as well. She was trying to hold it together as she came towards Grandpa, but she couldn’t. “How are you, Jan?” he asked. “I’m doing okay,” was her response. Grandpa replied, “Well, as long as you are all right, I am too. That’s what matters, is that you are okay.” He wanted her, and others, to be “okay” more than himself.

One day when I was little, I had gotten sick. Doctor visit sick. My Grandpa came over and made me a bowl of popcorn. This was kind of unusual for him to do. But as he brought it to me he said, “Popcorn helps you feel better.” He swore by it. I passed that on to my kids – popcorn helps you feel better. As I sat in his kitchen – their kitchen – after the graveside service for Grandma, I noticed something on the counter. A bowl of popcorn.

I talked awhile ago about thanking God for the hard things. I never could have imagined how that would play out in my life in recent days. But you know what I am thankful for? That in death we learn to value life more, and treasure those around us more dearly. There are many lessons to be learned in death, and I am just beginning that part of my journey.

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