This past week, my husband's uncle passed away.
His name is Jerry, and he is a wonderfully sweet man. Yes, I'm using "is" instead of "was", because it's still his name even in death. Our memories keep him alive in us, and thus he is STILL a very sweet man. His health had been in decline for quite a while, and he has rallied then deteriorated, rallied then deteriorated, many times over. My father-in-law had called weeks ago to tell me that the doctors believed he wasn't going to make it through the day, and yet Jerry improved once more. However, when the call that he had passed came, I don't think any of us were shocked. His time had finally come, and (speaking for myself, here), I was honestly glad that his suffering was over. Yes, there was sadness that we wouldn't get one more conversation with him, but also gratitude that he was no longer in pain. While with each rally we were happy to see him come back to us a bit, that also meant that his struggle continued.
Jerry was a jockey when he was younger, and he lived long enough to see another Triple Crown. I'm sure on that day, the struggle was worth it, and I am also incredibly grateful he lived to see that race.
Over the course of the week, myself and many of my husband's family members have been posting remembrances of time spent with him and including the link to his obituary. Pictures of my husband's cousins when they were children sitting on his lap, most of the time with a smile on their faces, filled our Facebook feeds, as well as stories of events shared together. With each post, our friends and family who didn't know Jerry would comment to share their condolences.
One phrase that nearly all of the comments included was "I'm sorry for your loss". This is a phrase that has always bothered me, because frankly, we didn't lose him. We lose things like our car keys and odd socks. I lose my sunglasses all the time. Meanwhile, I know where Jerry is, and I will see him again. I know he is with God, and also with his wife who passed away in 2005. I easily could have written that as, "his wife whom he lost in 2005", but he didn't lose her either. I know Jerry and Sandy were fellow Christians, so he knew where she was as well.
This idea and belief is one I infused into the character Amy in my first novel, An Unusual Path. Amy's husband, Clark, has just been in a fatal car accident, and below is an excerpt from following the memorial service:
Ever the pastor’s wife, Amy kept reminding everyone to have faith that Clark was in heaven, and that she’d see him soon. Looking back later, she chuckled at her inability to relinquish that role even at Clark’s funeral. She truly believed what she was saying, and it helped her keep her focus on the fact that she really would be with Clark again. But constantly reassuring everyone else during her own pain began to wear on her.
Amy appreciated all of the kind words everyone had to say, she really did. But after what felt like the hundredth person coming up and speaking of “her loss”, she had to excuse herself to the restroom. Once in the hallway and away from the group, Amy made a bee line for the next hallway. But before she could get there, her resolve failed her. Amy found herself suddenly sobbing alone in a hallway of her church. The emotions, neatly bottled up for the last hour, had caught up with her. Everything was just too much, and she finally had nothing to do but break down.
Tears flowed and flowed, leaving Amy in a puddle that she was both ashamed of and grateful for. Holding it all together for everyone was something she felt was necessary but exhausting. The release actually felt like a weight was being lifted off her shoulders, but Amy also felt like she needed to be strong for the congregation and for Olivia. Amy had reached a point where the duality of that was too much.
Jack came through the doors leading to the hallway like an answered prayer. If anyone was to find her in a broken down state, Amy wanted it to be Jack. Her parents would have consoled her like the child she would always be to them, and she loved them for it. But that wasn’t what she needed right now. Amy needed someone that would hold her without any questions asked or response required.
When she saw Jack, Amy nearly ran to him and buried her head in his shoulder. Jack backed up against the wall so that Amy could give him her weight, and he wrapped his arms around her tightly. All of the pain, all of the anger, all of the fear, everything Amy had been trying to keep a handle on, were suddenly poured into Jack’s shoulder.
Amy was never more grateful.
When death arrives around us, we need to stop focusing on loss and remember to celebrate life.
Death happens. Its a part of life that no matter what any of us do we can't stop. So many of us focus on embracing life while forgetting that death is part of that beautiful journey. One of my absolute favorite quotes , supposedly from Dr. Suess though there is some dispute about that, is, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." That holds true for life and death. When someone does dear to us dies, celebrate who they were on this Earth. Tell the stories. Laugh at the stupid jokes they told way too often. Share the pictures of their awful hair when they were in high school. When you meet up with friends and family at the memorial service, celebrate with them in the deceased's honor in a way that they would simply be bummed they missed the party.
By doing so, you will never lose the joy they brought into your life, and you will never lose them, either.
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