Off North Road : Ebb and flow
A death touched down again this week in the circle of our parish, not an unexpected event in a group growing older, but nevertheless, a signal event. Ah, but this is the month of June and weddings, happiness, and beginnings - not for the somber tolling of the bell and the heavy veil of grief which isolates and hides in the manner of the eastern burka.
On Sunday morning, as the church service ended, the widow stood by her seat in her pew, expectantly shifting here and there as if hoping for a meeting of another's eye with hers. As people rose to greet one another I approached my friend, whose husband had died two days before after sixty years of marriage. She accepted my hand and arms in a hug. A murmur of condolence passed between us and a thank-you for the few lines I had written the night before.
Death waits for no month or season, often unexpected, but as often awaited with quiet unexpressed dread, and as the time approaches near, a quiet acknowledgment settles over the steady strong currents of life, beset at times with fear or apathy or the grief of premature loss. Nevertheless, the life current usually runs strong with or against the tide until the final reckoning. How do we all arrive there at the end? Has preparation been enough? Do we know what baggage to pack away for the journey, or do we leave those details to the ones we leave behind? The rules are flexible, and decisions of the mind are often discarded for the natural patterns of automatic behavior which most of us have fashioned long before.
Some of us must make do with such a used-up life so intense that its end barges up against unfinished work. The death of the master commentator and journalist, Tim Russert, is a case in point this week, yet he leaves a model for excellence, integrity and a core of values that many of us will try to follow.
The ritual celebration of the life of the deceased at his or her memorial service allows the survivors to enrich their own lives for many years to come as they savor the rewards and special features of their loved ones, along with the deep experience of grief and loss.
Yes, June is the month of weddings, so we know every month is a time for funerals. We pass from one to the other, taking in the meanings of endings and beginnings almost simultaneously. A balancing process quite human happens. Sometimes after a stressful night during my doctor life, I might walk the long corridor from the obstetrical unit feeling tired but uplifted at the same time as I walked through the hospital doors outside beneath a star-lit sky.
Within the hour I had helped a mother give birth to her new child. During that same walk, I might realize I had been there earlier that day, then tired and sad after the death of one of my very sick patients.
On one such morning, as I reached my car in the lot, I turned on my car radio and a voice announced sunrise in 10 minutes at 6:55 am. Instead of wheeling home to bed, I drove to the bluff at East Chop and watched the sun spread its light like fire across Nantucket Sound. The balance was being restored that early morning and I had been a privileged and fortunate participant once more.