I spent the day helping a friend go through the belongings of a dear loved one who has passed. It’s tough going. One might think it’s the expensive toys, gadgets, and gizmos which you’d want to hold on to but instead, it’s the little things; sheets of paper, old license plates, CDs, notepads. Items which wouldn’t sell at a yard sale or purchased at Goodwill are of immense value, a treasure to the ones who remain.
Death is often an open wound. Scabs may form, some healing might occur, but grasping at past memories and experiences, strains and pulls apart the wound and the pain, heartbreak of loss returns. Its hard letting go. It’s difficult to say; “goodbye.” but death demands we do it again and again in many ways, on many occasions and you wonder if it will ever be the last time.
Moving on requires that one live open-handed, no clinging to earthly, temporal things, allowing the shared life of the one who is gone to be enough.
Where You’re Going –
This morning, at a community group for dads, I talked with the men about the importance of “Putting First Things First.” It’s a concept which deals with knowing what’s truly the most important things in our lives and using those as a framework for how we live. When you know what’s important then every decision is made according to your paradigm, your life’s mission statement. If a decision is made that does not fit the schematics of who you are and who you want to become you make it right. Otherwise, you are traveling in the opposite direction of where you need to go.
Everything we do, walking the road of life, involves passion, energy, and time. We have limited supplies of all three. We have to choose how we are going to use them. Our life is a list of the things we do and deem important. The more items on our list the less passion, energy, and time we have to give each item. The fewer items on the list the more we have to give.
This is why knowing what’s important, where you are going, is a must. It allows us to make sure some items remain on our list, what important, and eliminate the unimportant. Direction is easy once we decide where we want to go.
On Saturday afternoon I burned a pile of branches, old newspapers, and other miscellaneous items. The smell of the ashes and leftover debris lingered in the air the next day. I had forgotten to grab an old wooden rocking chair out of the reading room which also needed to be disposed of. When I noticed it Sunday afternoon I wondered if the smoldering ash would still be hot enough to do anything. I took the chair out, broke it into several pieces and put some under the coals, which were still a faint orange, and put the rest in a pile on top. I checked it after a while and noticed the smoke had increased. About an hour later the wood was ablaze with a good flame. It didn’t take long to consume it once the fire restarted. Not too long afterward the chair was gone.
I wrote last week about the struggles I have when February rolls around. Many years have passed but the layers of hurt, anger, and uncertainty still lay buried, ready to ignite when fuel is added. What I try to do, instead of dwelling on the past, is not feed the flames. When I am aware and notice my mind drifting back to the place of pain I find a place to breathe. I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I remind myself of the truth that I cannot change the past but I can be present in the now. Does it always work? No. Does it work? Yes. Maybe one day I will be healed, maybe not, but I don’t want to give up on living today because of the difficulties of yesterday.
Today I had the privilege and duty to be a part of the memorial service for my father. It’s been surreal the last few days. So many errands to run, items to check off on a list, places to go, people to see. There’s been a sense of urgency, a nervous energy, a controlled chaos, riding a wave of sorrow and speed. Because of the hectic pace of the last several days, I stood on the stage behind the pulpit at the service this afternoon with no notes, and no structure to the stories and experiences I wanted to share.
Words, they’ve flooded my mind and soul since Dad passed. Words from family and friends who care and are sorry for our loss. Words that go into an obituary, on a card for flowers, in a service program and used in phone calls, emails, and texts. So many words used to describe the love a family has for one who is, was, the central fixed, point.
Now, standing behind the pulpit at the memorial service today, I had no notes, no words written, no solid ideas, memories swarming in my head but none coming in for a landing. How do you choose the right words to convey the meaning of a life which impacted many people? In the pantheon of phrases, how do you pick out those which will express the purpose of a life lived well?
A deep breath, a small prayer, and … share my heart, open my lips, loosen my tongue and let the words come. No, they will not be adequate. No, they will not be perfect. Yes, there will be second-guessing and memories that are forgotten to be shared.
Words. They are not, and cannot contain the heart’s cry of longing and loneliness or succinctly express the fondness, the love, the good of being apart from a person you love. This is okay. Living, being, existing, is more than words, deeper than condolences, greater than expressions of sympathy and sadness.
Living should be beyond our ability to communicate it easily if it is done well.