We don’t write about such things. The events that move us in the real world are too mundane for that. I step away from the norm to give my account.
I’ve sent the four limos away and stand in my best blue suit and black wool coat, flanked by two strong nephews who asked permission to remain with me at a time when polite society withdraws. It’s January 29th, yet hundreds of stale, wind-blown Christmas wreaths remain staked to the ground in long, precise rows. The wind gusts against our fresh displays of pink and lavender roses. How they cut such a clean rectangle into the ground, I don’t know.
Calloused hands guide rolls of green nylon strap as the cherry wood casket recedes into the ground. No one speaks. Not one of the yellow roses perched on that burnished lid move and I recall they remained on my father’s coffin eight years back when he died at age 78. My mother is 78 and now she’s dead. Leukemia. Both of them. My dress shoes kick at wet, dirty snow, then I step onto plywood, worn through and ragged, covering the ground at the edge of the grave. I lean forward and stare into the hole, fixing the image in my mind. Permanently.
A concrete lid is winched onto the vault and I see my mother’s name in gold. The funeral director watches till it’s properly seated, then nods and walks off. The hearse pulls away. A truck backs onto the plywood and pours crushed limestone into the hole. We stare for I don’t know how long till it returns to dump wet clods of earth, filling the hole in less than a minute. A ragged worker. A small bladed shovel smoothing the heap. I scoop loose dirt from the truck bed and deposit it on the pile. This is real dirt—both clay and black soil that sticks to my fingers and palm. He finishes his task. I thank him. I don’t know his name.
Why am I here while a crowd of loved ones wait at a restaurant three miles down the road? I am numb. I need release. I want closure. I am forcing it on myself. While others turn away from their loss, I face it at the cost of sudden pain. Of all the images of death, the crown of dirt that seals that hole is the most potent—more than kissing her brow before they removed the corpse. My mother’s body lies hidden—hidden as if she had never been. Nothing left but the wind.
“If that were really all there was to life, what would be the point?” I say. My nephews both agree. The Truth is stark and obvious as we stand there, numb and humble. She no longer has use of her husk or for human pain. She’s in the presence of the Lord.
As the car approaches, I’m thankful the driver stayed so long. We leave almost a thousand dollars of flowers at that gravesite and step around an icy puddle, into the black interior and my tears finally come as we glide to the place of good company, food and comfort.
6 responses to “REAL DEATH”
Potent. Crisp. Surreal. Cathartic. I’ll never forget that moment. Your words perfectly described the harsh reality and profoundly emotional acts that most people never wait to witness. Painful and yet healing.
Thank you David. I actually cut out a lot of harsh detail and tried to stick to the essentials.
I should say, as you well know.
A very real, very touching post. Thank you for sharing this John.
Very interesting perspective. I have to wonder how many people did the same as you…remained behind until the very end. But for me, I wouldn’t wonder if “that was it” for I know in more ways than one that it is not. For those of us who have asked Jesus into our lives know what awaits us.
But there are also those we leave behind.
Did we make a mark in this world?
It doesn’t matter how much money, possessions, power or success we have. What matters is the good works we do in the name of the Lord. How we treat those around us…those we know, and those we don’t.
“You can’t help everybody, but you can help a few. It’s that few that God will hold us accountable for.” Bob Pierce
I agree. My little statement was an attempt to make that same point.