A cold and rainy Sunday morning got a little colder when we heard the news that our good friend was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. We contacted her daughter and were somewhat relieved to hear that though she was in ICU, she was stable and resting comfortably. That news was barely processed and digested when we read a text shortly after that one that told us she had just passed away.
As we work for a church, we had arrived that morning to attend worship and to take care of some of the things that we do as part of our jobs on Sunday morning. To be greeted with the news that Cindy had suffered a heart attack sent us reeling. At 9 AM that morning we heard the news. By 1 PM that same day as we were heading home, we were already planning her funeral.
About ten days before she passed, a group of six us, her and her husband included, had sat around our kitchen table and shared a meal together, followed by a hotly contested game of Aggravation. Boys vs. Girls. The girls won. Cindy sat on my left, and we verbally jabbed and poked at each other, she trying to tell if my game face attitude of “if you can’t win, suck the fun out of it for everyone else” was merely a ruse that I use to entertain, or if it is really how I feel. We laughed so hard that night about so many different things, it was great to have the warmth and glow of friendship permeating our house.
My mind takes me back to the game of Aggravation quite often, and I can still hear her laughing, all of us roaring and being silly about stuff that doesn’t matter, until that laughter echoes with pain at the thought of never hearing her laugh again. She could really uncork some great comebacks, but she would always follow them with a gentle “You know I’m kidding, right?” She always said it, and it was always unnecessary. She was nowhere near the snarkiest person in the room, as long as I am around.
The following Friday we celebrated her life and her memory with a funeral at our church. As I said, we work there, Cindy had worked there, too, until she retired about a year and a half ago. Retired as in no longer keeping regular office hours with us. She still maintained a bunch of different functions for us, on a volunteer basis, so we saw her pretty regularly. When a person that you love passes, there is a hole left behind. With Cindy, the hole is deeper, harder to get out of. She was not only a dear friend and great person, but she was also really good at what she did, and so there are multiple different ways to be reminded, continually of the loss that we have undergone. We have to find some other ways to accomplish all that she did for us, and no one will be able to do it the way that she did.
I read someone’s post on LinkedIn just the other day, about two young boys who were killed in a fire. I don’t know if life holds a more unfair, intense or debilitating stab through the heart than the loss of a child. My brother-in-law lost his only daughter, she was 18 years old, in a car accident a few years back, and the thought of it still grips my heart and makes me wince.
Life is hard. Life is short, life is temporary. Life is fleeting. And life goes on. My brother-in-law lost his daughter ten days before Christmas. And then you hear the people, who are lost and just trying to say something that matters, (when in truth nothing can be said that will matter in that moment): “oh, and she died at Christmas, too…” As if there is that perfect time of the year to bury one of your kids.
I’m having breakfast tomorrow with Cindy’s husband. We should have been doing this more often, but it’s something I want to do to maintain a connection with him. I don’t love Jerry less because he doesn’t have Cindy anymore, if anything, I love him more. We learn in difficult times, in tragic times, in times of loss, how much love matters. It always matters, we just spend too much time taking it for granted. When it’s taken away, we feel that intensity. I get to have breakfast with Jerry, and we’ll talk and laugh and maybe cry and I know it will be good. I’ve never had time with Jerry that I didn’t enjoy.
We’ll eat, we’ll talk, we’ll get up to pay the check, maybe argue about who will pay. I’ll head into work and be sick about the emptiness that he has to be feeling. I’ll tell everyone at work how he’s doing. He’ll head back to an empty house. Life will go on.
Last Saturday we sat around that same kitchen table with my parents. We shared a meal and talked about a lot of things. My parents are both 90 years old, so we have to talk louder and explain things more. That makes it hard for me, explaining things to my dad. He taught me about life, the world, how to make sense of things, how to appreciate reading, how to talk with people whom you disagree with and still make a deep connection.
He taught me about humor and never taking anything too seriously. And I find myself yelling at him across the table because he can’t hear as well anymore, and at 90, though he still has all of his faculties, it just takes him longer to process words and ideas. After I yell, I see the look of sadness in his eyes, as he’s frustrated at how long it takes him to sort things out. He was always so quick with a snappy comeback, that it’s hard for me to process that his sharp, agile mind can’t grasp things like he used to.
Some of that sadness is directed toward me, as well. I don’t get it, yet I feel some of the same things happening to me. I spent close to 30 years working in industrial settings, not always taking care of my hearing as I should have. I feel overwhelmed by technology, and at a loss to make sense of the world in which we now live. I’m still reeling from the loss of one friend. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a sibling, or a parent, or as many friends as my parents have certainly lost. Mom and Dad are high school sweethearts, so there is no way of estimating, after being married for 71 years, how many friends, good friends, dear friends, former neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances that they have lost.
It’s part of their routine now to go to funerals. It’s been a frequent part of my life too. Whatever you think or feel or believe about what happens after this life is something I could talk to you about, or encourage you to consider it differently. What has become crystal clear to me is that with me or without me, life goes on. Look around you, don’t dwell on it, but everyone you know, everyone that you see, will die at some point. Death is the great leveling force, no one get outs of here alive.
While you’re here, let’s turn down the volume on our discussions. Turn up the laughter. Have more breakfasts with friends. Have more patience with people, no matter their age. Have more game nights. Make those connections, listen to those stories, hug those people, live, laugh, love. Life goes on. It sucks to know that sometimes.
In the 18 days since we lost Cindy, it has gone on. It’ll go on without you too. It’s reassuring that life goes on. It’s as heavy as a wet blanket sometimes too. While you’re still sucking air, make it count, make it matter, make a difference. Take the trip, make the phone call, hold the hand, hug it out. Love like there is no tomorrow.