Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter: The Story of Death (and of Life)




 This is my contribution to the Convergent books Synchroblog.

Easter. Resurrection? Right?  Happy memories of children hunting eggs, jelly beans, and a large family dinner.  Not always.  Did you ever stop to think that Easter is another day?  People are born (like my friend Dan from college was born on Easter Sunday.)  People also die.

April 16, 1995 was a beautiful warm day in West Virginia.  A friend of mine was offered extra credit in a college class to attend church, bringing a church bulletin in with him the next morning.  So finally, he offered to attend church with me.   My mother was working at the local nursing home, and he was also scheduled to work soon after church, so I fixed lunch for us.  As soon as he got to work, he knew something was wrong when Mom wasn't at her station, and he went running to my grandmother's room.   He declared, "I should have brought Jennifer with me."  Because it was shift change, I was called, told I would be picked up by someone I never met and I was, on the day we celebrate the Resurrection, I was going to be present at my grandmother's death.

It was the hardest thing I'd ever done up to that point in my life, which at twenty-two, wasn't that long of a life.  To be so joyful at a worship service that morning and then watch as life waned from my grandmother, her eyes studying me, knowing she wouldn't see me for a very long time.  Easter now has become synonymous to me with a last breath, making arrangements at the funeral home, and the feeling of emptiness that Mary, Mary Magdalene and the disciples felt on Good Friday.  Did you realize that Mary and Mary Magdalene did their first century equivalent of making funeral arrangements?   They were headed to the tomb, not understanding what happened.  They only knew the One whom they loved died a gruesome death reserved for the very dregs of society.  Their Son, their Friend.  Gone.  I'm sure if they even remembered the words of Jesus from John 10:17, they didn't grasp them.  (This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.)  Or the words from John 16:22 (So you also are now in anguish.  But I will see you again, and your hearts with rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.)

My mother, every year on Easter and on April 16 mourned the loss of my grandmother.  Mom always said it was like two anniversaries of death and told me "You never get over the loss of your mother."  I thought she was exaggerating because wouldn't you learn to live without someone?

February 18, 2014, my boyfriend dropped me off at RCIA.  I made the decision last year to become Catholic and needed to be at the class.  We had been running errands in a town an hour away, spending much of the afternoon in the DMV.  He was going to check on Mom, then return for the rest of class.  When the phone rang, my first thought was, "Why is he calling?   He knows I'm in class."  I stepped out of the room, and heard, "I had to call 911.  She's unresponsive."  When I returned to the class, I was asked if I needed to go.  I explained I had no car.  Soon a second phone call.   A paramedic questioning me about her medical conditions.  My boyfriend on the phone telling me I needed to get home.  As I gathered my things, and grabbed a friend out of the class to give me a ride 10 miles up the mountain, I heard the lesson.  The Eucharist.   "This do in remembrance of me."  It's how we, as Christians, remember the death of Jesus.

The next time I heard my priest's voice, he was standing by my mother who had passed away.  Because my mother was not Catholic, he could not do Last Rites, but did a prayer of committal of her spirit to God.  The Scriptures were comforting, at least as comforting as they could be at the moment when my mother was gone.  I had fully expected to see her later that evening.  Sobs racked my body, though.  My boyfriend on one side of me, the friend who brought me home from church on the other.

It is two months today since Mom died.  It's hard.  I had to have follow ups to a mammogram because something suspicious was found.  I wanted her there so badly.  (Thankfully all was clear.) I have waited for marriage until I found the right man.  Mom met him, but she said last summer that she had two last things she was living for, one was to publish a book she wrote, and the second was to see me married.  My heart aches at the thought of a wedding now that neither of my parents are alive.

When my dad passed away, I had recently taken a trip to Israel with a friend who was Episcopalian and her Jewish boyfriend.  He stepped up and did the best he could of sitting Shiva with me -- every evening he phoned me.  It was comforting to know that someone acknowledged my grief beyond the time my dad's body was placed in the ground.

I learned more about Jewish mourning rituals at that time.  There's a tradition called avelut where, if your parent has died, you should avoid celebrations, parties, and the like for a year.  My boyfriend's step-mother called recently wanting us to visit on Easter, or for them to visit.  We live five hours away and rarely see each other.  I don't feel ready for a celebration.  I'm not entering the Catholic Church at Easter as I planned but giving myself more time. (I will elaborate on this in an upcoming blog post).   My heart is still shattered.  Although Christians don't follow Jewish mourning rituals, I feel justified in knowing the celebration I looked forward to may not be appropriate for me just yet.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, but right now, I'm still living in Good Friday.  I'm feeling what the disciples felt after losing Him.   I'm sure someday I'll have more of an understanding of Resurrection, Eternal Life, and Heaven, but right now, I'm feeling grief.  Because of my Grandmother, even Easter Sunday has grief woven through it, but maybe, just maybe that's how it should be.  What if we didn't just celebrate the Resurrection on Easter, but remember how death hurts, leaves an ache that won't go away -- unless we see the Person again.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Jenn. I'm sorry the grief and pain are such heavy things to bear. May healing continue to come to you.

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  2. This is such a beautiful and honest post, Jenn. You continue to be in my prayers!

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