Tuesday, August 7, 2012

'Let it begin with me'

Psalm 36:5-9 (NIV)

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
   your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
   your justice like the great deep.
   You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
   People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
   you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
   in your light we see light.
We buried my grandmother today.

This is the natural order of things after one dies, and it followed a lovely funeral service with heartfelt comments from friends, family and clergy. A personal highlight for me was the minister — fairly new in town — rightfully calling my dad’s dad “Doc” instead of his given name, which is what the priest used repeatedly for his funeral five years ago. There’s nothing wrong with the name Raymond — it serves beautifully as Charlie’s middle name — but hardly anyone called him that in life, so it seemed ill-fitting in death. But of course it didn’t change how we felt, which is what’s really important.

I’m sure I didn’t cry as much today as I did for my grandfather’s funeral, but a lot of my sadness that day was exacerbated by watching my grandmother deal with the loss. Part of today and the entire mourning experience has been about the finality of their time as life partners. A family friend at the visitation, my parents’ peer, pointed out among their large circle, very few have any parents still alive. That must be a heavy reality to face.

On the positive side, I noted, I couldn’t think of any couple in that circle that has been separated by death. Yet I know of several high school and college friends who have lost parents — some while we were still very young, others in the last month and even one today. I feel I might be running this theme into the ground, but when I think about my relationship with my grandparents, all of whom attended my high school graduation and three of whom made it to my wedding and met at least one great-grandson, I feel incredibly, unspeakably lucky. Life and family are a remarkable gift to be cherished.

After the brief graveside service, I reached into my pocket for a rock. I’d found it in the diaper bag the day before, and I knew immediately how it got there: Max. Like me when I was young, Max loves to bring rocks into the house. He has better taste than I did, because I’m pretty sure I once toted home a chunk of asphalt I found on the way back from school. His favorites are the smooth stones we collect on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The rock in my pocket today was smooth, but not a skipping stone. It was absolutely nothing special. Still, I knew I wanted to toss it into the Earth, and so I did.

Main Street, Elizabeth, Ill. (looking northwest on U.S. 20)
And then I chose to walk back to the church, rather than get back in someone’s car. First I walked up the hill to the church that hosted my grandfather’s funeral, near the rectory where they were married. Then past the car dealership where I bought my first car, a 1988 Chevrolet Caprice Classic my grandparents found for me near the end of my junior year at Coe. I could see the offices they used to work in, the building that used to be the drug store Grandma would take me to when I visited so she could rent me a few movies to watch over and again. The restaurant on the corner where Kristie, Jack and I used to meet my grandparents for meals when my parents were in town.

Later in the day Jack spoke up about remembering certain local landmarks, though some of it was aided by photos he sees regularly. Still, it was more than I gave him credit for, and it gave me a glimmer of hope he’s got some sense of connection to the land. Of course, this is the same kid who could scarcely remember any of my aunts, uncles or cousins, nor was he super interested in me explaining how they’re important people I don’t get to see very often. But progress is progress.

This may be something of an awkward segue, but I want to transition away from how I dealt with today and focus directly on the reason we gathered. Later I may be able to tell some more stories about Grandma as we continue to sort through the personal papers she deemed worthy of saving amidst the massive expunging of material during the process of cleaning and selling the house. (One I am looking forward to reading is her account of my grandfather’s proposal, handwritten the night they became engaged.)

But today, specifically, was a chance to see a glimpse of the way she wanted to be remembered. I can tell from the rough draft of her obituary — typed between her stroke in August 1999 and my Coe graduation in May 2001 — she had thought a fair amount about her mortality. I know she did a little more advance planning after Grandpa died in 2007. So much of what we read and heard and sang at church today was done so entirely according to her wishes.

In that light, I will end this post the way we ended today’s service, with a song I’ve never seen associated with a funeral yet found to be a powerful message to send: “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.

With God our Creator
Family all are we,
Let us walk with each other
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now;
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow:

To take each moment and live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Words to live by — which is exactly what she wanted. I will do my best to make her proud.

A prayer for August 7:

Lord, today I feel so blessed. Blessed by the chance to share so much of my life with my grandmother. Blessed to be surrounded by family as we remembered her. Blessed to have so many who have gone out of their way to offer comfort and sympathy. Blessed to hear again the story of Christ’s sacrifice and to have our focus directed not on the things of this planet, but toward life eternal. Indeed, with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light — glorious, radiant light unlike anything we can construct or conceive. Your love is amazing, and all I can think to say is thank you. Amen.

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