Several of my recent posts have involved the passing of my grandmother…I suppose that has been my process of unpacking the event and working through the grief process. Karen made an interesting point to me upon reviewing those posts: I’ve never said that Grandma “died,” I’ve always said that she “passed.”
As I think about this, I realize that I made a conscious decision to use that phraseology, because, working under the assumption that Grandma was a Believer means to work under the assumption that she isn’t “dead,” but has simply “passed” into the spiritual realm and (temporarily) out of the physical. Perhaps that is why my mourning was, if intense, very brief, because there is no death to mourn in the eternal sense of the word, only a momentary separation.
As often happens, I was directed (call it providence) into specific reading as I’ve been working through this, and, wouldn’t you know it, the theme for issue 14 of The Other Journal is “Death and Dying.” Under the same providence, I “stumbled” onto this article discussing the manner in which we treat death culturally, and the parallels (and eventual conclusions) to the thought of St. Francis of Assisi on the matter. While worth the read, I’ll warn you that it leans a little on the side of theo-speak. The conclusion simply follows St. Francis’ initial fear of death that evolved into his referring to death as his “sister,” and accepting the passing from this realm to the next as a gift.
Really, I think this is fitting, because, as I’ve struggled with the sanitization and compartmentalization of death in our culture (and the resulting impossibility to truly mourn the loss of a loved one), I’ve realized that, stopping just short of embracing death, I actually long for the spiritual realm, to see what is beyond the limits of our physical existence as we pass from this existence into a fuller existence. I’m utterly curious as to what Grandma is experiencing now, because I know that life didn’t stop for her, it simply transitioned. Life became fuller for her on that evening around 9:00 p.m. two weeks or so ago.
I suppose I’m left questioning the fear of death, the existential grasping for life in the present as though there is nothing beyond. While the characters I mentioned previously in Beth Henley’s The Wake of Jamey Foster inhabited their search for life fully, they did so in fear of a perceived abyss that lay ahead.
The character of “Thirteen” is experiencing a similar struggle on House, as she grasps for a hope in life in the few years she has left due to a terminal illness. We see the poignant struggle to cling to each moment in the present for fear of what the future may bring.
Yet, if the truth of Christ means anything, it is that this is not necessary. It means that, while He certainly yearns for us to inhabit this life fully in the present, and that He is walking in the present with us, it means that the future is not something to be feared, either. Death, as Assisi would have likely concluded, is a gift, a transition from a fallen state of existence into the beginnings of a complete state of existence, the same one that He inhabits.
So, I still can’t say that Grandma “died.” I believe that she has truly “passed,” and, to echo Paul’s occasional sentiments, I find myself looking forward to the day when I pass into what is next, also. Even more, however, I long to inhabit the present passionately and fully, knowing that I am not doing so alone, and that, in doing so, I will be having an effect on the fuller life that I will eventually experience, right alongside my grandmother.
I also think that we as Christians struggle with death, because those who have “died” are actually being born into the eternal existance we were originally created for. Perhaps we hurt because we are feeling the pains of the “living dead” and are reminded of the home that calls us from Heaven.
I think that’s a great perspective.