I BELIEVE IN HEARTACHE AND GRATITUDE
I believe in heartache as the beginning of wisdom and gratitude as the maturing of love.
My mother, already comatose from a severe head injury, would die without emergency neurosurgery. A 50/50 chance of recovery did not guarantee speech or even knowing who she was. They would support whatever decision I made. In panic I played for time, but time had run out. At last I stammered a refusal, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Fourteen years earlier my father quietly endured the slow, cruel indignities of dying from lung cancer. He wanted no funeral; our goodbyes were private and brief. I still regret not placing the box with his cremains in the grave. The last intimate contact should not have been left to a stranger’s indifference.
For more than a year I felt palpable heartache on a regular basis. I had known grief but never with the recurring physical pain I thought the prelude to a heart attack. Indeed it was an attack of the heart, for part of me had been wrenched away.
Now my mother was dying. My friend Lois and I stayed with her every day. The fourth day I entered the hospital room flooded with early morning light, mom’s shallow breathing the only sound. Then I knew I would not fear death, merely the means by which it might come. She died the sixth day as we awaited her transfer to hospice.
I know agonies will recur, especially if I outlive Lois or cousins close as siblings. I despise bromides about “closure” and “the healing process” as if grief were an embarrassing abnormality rather than an intensity of life. The heart’s door does not close though deep wounds scab over to stanch our lifeblood’s loss. The throb and ache diminish but never cease completely.
Our dead live on in heart and mind guiding, inspiring, admonishing, consoling. The grave mistake is to think memory is stagnant past rather than personal culmination through which we continue to grow. The depth of grief is the measure of live. and only those who suffer know the value of life.
By embracing the fullness and folly of the real individual, mercy and grace evolve in sorting virtue from failings while loving the whole person. It creates a communion of saints. Not a dichotomy of righteous and damned. But an inter-generational continuity of good-willed people trying to live compassionately whatever their faults. In befriending the dead we join this communion as we in turn uplift others.
We’d bring my father flowers and chocolate covered cherries when visiting his grave. Now that I’ve placed my mother’s cremains beside his, I will bring them caramel corn as well. I know they are dead and beyond any caring. I also know that, could they care, they would be touched and filled with impish delight. And for their joy that lives in me, I am profoundly grateful.
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