Thursday, March 27, 2008

Death -- Real, Not Imagined

I felt a visceral jolt when I saw his face from several feet away, not intending to go up to him, not sure what to do ... his too-young face, his young blond head, lying in his coffin, his mother bent double with racking sobs next to him. The unnerving resemblance of his death repose to sleep hit me next; it felt stereotypical to even think it, but I was positive he was about to move. It wasn't possible for this all to be real. How could a whole mass of people be standing, talking, grieving, right next to his actual body?

The intellectual processing went something like: This is wrong. No left, right, up, down, two ways about it. We all know it's wrong -- young death -- on some instinctual species-survival level. But knowing it and witnessing it are two different things.

And I didn't even know him. I do know the heartbreak of losing a brother. And I now know how the heartbreak of watching a dear friend and her family mourn such a devastating, impossible loss.


I didn't intend nor plan to kick off a fresh new blog with a string of grimness, but so goes life, and so can be the bleakness of March. Originating from an everlasting warm and sunny place, I never knew the toll of March, the bleak of March, the boring of March, the endlessness of March. But all of that pales to nothingness next to the screaming void of a young death -- unexpected and inexplicable.


Waking up the morning after she called and said, "You haven't heard?", sadly, quietly, "Ohh ... my brother died last night." First awakening to the bare glimmer of dawn, barren branches against the sky, a moment or two of my brain stirring, thinking about my day, and then the news falling anew like those proverbial bricks. Crashing. And then knowing she would be waking up to something similar, but far, far worse. It's reminiscent of waking up Christmas morning or the morning after a breakup -- to something either so anticipated and delightful or so crushing and dreadful -- you either wake up directly into the emotion of it, or you wake up, there are a few beats of time, and then the emotion descends and envelops.


A church of young people, struggling to come to grips, let alone understand. A family's devastation. A friend's quivering-voiced eulogy of her younger brother. A father, breaking down before the congregation, unable to go on. His remaining son, stepping up to read his father's words. A mother, laying out her child's loss alongside his birth, the imagined, the real. The hymn, Amazing Grace. A pastor, trying to shed light on such a loss, on Easter's eve. How is any of it bearable? It's not. It nearly wasn't.

And yet. And yet. I never could've understood before losing my brother Michael and taking part in his funeral, just how critical funerals are. In the midst of a loss that could wipe a person out, standing alone, shared grieving and bearing witness -- it's all we have. It's not even remotely enough, but it has to be. It's all we have.

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