Too few weddings. Way too many funerals.
That's how your life goes when you approach your seventh decade schlepping around on this pile of rocks.. Every chat with friends of the same age includes what a buddy calls 'the organ recital": not a gaggle of musical selection but instead a list of everyone's ailments and failing body parts. Our parents were notorious for such sessions, occasionally punctuated with horror stories that would give us kids nightmares. As we grew up, we became living proof the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
We may not call them "funerals" any more (instead, they're "celebrations of life") and that's all fine and good but the result is the same: when the last dinner roll is gone at the post-burial buffet, you're still left facing life without someone you cared about.
"Grief," a presiding clergyman said at a recent service I attended, "isn't an event. It's a process." And so a personal moment of clarity occurred as it comes to dealing with mortality. It's so succinctly true. You're never totally over a loss. The pain is still there--hidden, perhaps as daily routine crowds in and reality intrudes. But you never know when it's going to reassert itself.
My mom died 20 years ago--October 21, 1996. She'd been in failing health in her final years but death didn't seem imminent. She was 74, at age where mortality isn't an other-wordly concept but still, her departure was abrupt and the void took a while to process. There was the empty chair a month later at Thanksgiving, not as many presents under the tree that Christmas. Each family gathering is a reminder, even now, that all of us aren't there.
All part of the "process".
Your life goes on in between those occasions, but you never know when the memory will be jogged--or by what. It can be something as simple as a taste of a soup that's almost-but-not-quite-what-mom-used-to-make. It can be a song by an artist she loved (I have her favorite Dean Martin album on my iPod, just in case I need a trip down memory lane). The strangest came the other day when I was cruising a food web site and came across a recipe for "bierok", a German take on the Michigan pasty. Mom made them frequently--I'm guessing it didn't cost much for dough, ground beef or cabbage--and they were good stick-to-the-ribs cold-weather fare that had worn out their welcome on my taste buds over the years.
Oh, what I'd give to have one of mom's bieroks now.
What rational person wells with tears at the sight of a recipe for a meat pie? That would be someone who realizes that death is an event but that the grief that follows is, indeed, a process, one that vacillates in intensity but one that never ends. We miss our dearly departed every day but that sadness can come back without warning, when least expected. Happy memories crowd out the pain. Sudden ones can bring it back when least expected.
Enter the bierok.
We're told we shouldn't cry because something ended, but smile because it happened. The same can probably be said for those we love, and who we lose. Don't cry because they're gone. Be glad because they were part of who you are.
Easier said than done some days. Must be that "process" thing. Even 20 years later.