Thursday, October 30, 2008

Of Snowflakes and Diamonds

Death………I’ve wanted...or rather needed (nobody ever really WANTS to talk about it) to talk about this for a few days now and just didn’t know how to start it. It’s not an easy topic and quite frankly it’s going to be a long, 5 Kleenex blog entry, for both you AND me. However, I think it needs to be recorded for posterity and not just left to scatter to the wind and be forgotten. Also, the other reason for my delay in writing this is because I know Lori will be reading this at some point and I don’t want to cause more pain where there is already so much right now. So Lori, when you see this…it’s ok if you stop here, I won’t take it personally.

We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love. ~Madame de Stael

My first real encounter with the loss of a loved one came in 1999. Now I had lost several relatives before then, but they were relatives that I wasn’t close to, so at the risk of sounding callous, although I truly was sad when they passed, I just never ached that they were gone. My grandmother however, that was a different story. She was ill for quite a while and to see her degrade from the strong woman she once was, to a frail shell of her former self, was difficult. I had taken some leaves of abscence to go down for extended periods of time and care for her before she had to be moved to a nursing home, which I think helped prepare me to lose much as you can be anyway. My mother kept in constant contact with the nursing home…we couldn’t visit because we lived here in Connecticut and she was so far away in Alabama. The nurses kept my mom included in every detail and would give her status updates as often as possible which also helped. I remember though the night that we lost her…..I had a dream that night that I will never forget….one that I have shared some details with people about over the years, but this will be the first time I have EVER shared the entire thing with ANYONE....including my mother and Ben. I guess by keeping most of it to myself it was sort of like clinging onto my own personal goodbye and so I selfishly guarded it. Seeing one of my closest friends though going through such a painful loss has made me finally want to share the whole thing ...Who knows, maybe it will be encouraging to somebody out there never know.

In my dream I was walking in a large green grassy field beside a mountain. The sky was a rich bright blue, and the stone of the mountain was bright golden brown rock. As I walked I looked up and saw a grass covered hill extending from the mountain far into the field to my right. On top of this hill was a massive and beautiful tree, lush, full of leaves, and bathed in bright sunlight. I felt drawn to it and began walking towards it. The branches were full of emerald green leaves and I remember the branches rustling as wind whipped down the side of the mountain. As I got closer the color of the leaves began to change from emerald green to a warm golden orange and they began flying off of the tree with every gust of wind until only a few remained. I remember thinking that the whole scene looked like a Maxfield Parrish painting.
As I climbed the hill to the base of the tree I knew I was coming to the end of something…..I just didn’t know what yet. It was then that I heard a voice in the dream recite to me, Now a little before them stood an oak; and under it, when they came to it, they found an old pilgrim, fast asleep…..” I looked up at the branches of the tree above me and heard the same voice say, “When the last leaf falls she’ll be gone.” I remember feeling very sad and closing my eyes hoping that would stop the leaves from falling. When I opened them again I was laying down on the ground looking at the branches like a child lays in the grass and watches clouds go by. I watched leaf after leaf pop off in the wind and flutter and fly away until there was only one left amid the dark bark and branches. Then suddenly I saw that one wiggle and pop off, but instead of flying off and away it literally floated down slowly and as it got closer to my eyes I heard the voice again, “ ….yet if the sun of righteousness will arise upon him, his frozen heart shall feel a thaw; and thus it hath been with me.” At the last word, the leaf dropped onto my eyes and everything went black.
I remember sobbing in my sleep and waking up to the sound of the phone ringing, my mother picking it up, and hearing her crying as the nurses told her my grandmother was gone.
I found out later that the quotes I had heard in my dream were from Pilgrim’s Progress…a book I had never read before then. It’s been almost 10 years since I had that dream and yet the tears are streaming down my face as I remember it. As time passes, the pain of losing someone may not be felt as often or as deeply as it was in the beginning, but to some degree it will always be there. Now due to my faith I have a lot of peace about certain things pertaining to death, and I have that with my grandmother....but the physical side of life....that's where the hurt is. The fact that we can't hear their laugh, we can't see their smiles, we can't complain about all those little irritants that used to drive us nuts about them...or call on them when we're hurting and feel their comfort. **sigh** therein lies the pain.
A few weeks ago Lori's mom was suddenly and quite unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable cancer. It was a shocking blow. This woman who had never been sick a day in her life was suddenly struck down....blindsided. The biggest blessing I have seen so far is that where a strained and painful relationship once existed beteen Lori and her mom, there is now tenderness and affection. Where there was hurt and fear of rejection there is now love and acceptance.
Tuesday night I went with Lori to the hospice her mother had been taken to so we could spend some quality time with her. As we tried to make the best of a sorrowful thing we heard the story of the young woman in the bed next to Lori’s mom. Only six short months ago this 42 year old woman had been the life of the party, well loved by all and living to the fullest. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. They had gone in to remove it only to find that it had metastised and there was nothing that could be done. She now lay in a deeply medicated sleep unable to acknowledge or respond to anyone or anything around her. Just hours before we had arrived, her boyfriend, a huge burly biker type, had come to visit his love. Apparently at some point after her diagnosis this once vibrant woman had suffered the fear that he would leave her because of her illness. A fear that I'm sure many people feel when confronted with an illness of this magnitude. Well, that day, quietly, as the other patients in the room and their families sat visiting their own loved ones, he had come in with a group of their friends and family. Amid a sea of emotions he took out an engagement ring, lifted her limp arm and slipped it onto her finger and proposed. As he broke down in body shaking sobs he managed to get the words out, "I promised you I would never leave matter what." his other big burly friends who all looked like they should be bouncers in biker bars all let down their guard and hugged and supported their friend in his impending loss. I think that day, EVERYONE felt his impending loss.
Last year, our pastor lost his mother. She had been ill for a while, but we all held out hope and prayed for a miracle. She was an anchor in the church to say the least, a well loved woman with a heart to joyfully serve others in all she did. When we lost her it was one of the largest funeral processions the community had ever seen. The family has peace about losing her because they know how strong she was in her faith, but the physical pain is still raw. Days before she died I was in church with friends praying for a miracle when I suddenly felt impressed to grab a pen and paper and start writing.
What came next was a miriad of comparisons between snowflakes and diamonds..... Both are beautiful and both sparkle in the light...but that is where the similarities end. Snowflakes are fragile and have no substance...they are just beautiful frozen water and when heat is applied, they melt and are gone. Diamonds however....they are created when heat and pressure are applied and when thy are cut, they reflect light even more.
I think death is the final defining moment to show who is a diamond and who is a snowflake. Some melt and simply fade away...others grow stronger and reflect the light. We don't know how, when, or where our time will come but I pray we are all diamonds and reflect the light until our last breath is taken.

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