Good Friday

Survived by….

Olive, our dog, got a new toy for Easter. Meet Cerdito (little piggy in Spanish) as we affectionately call him.

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Looks the same, but Olive’s is green. As I sit here, Olive is chewing and the little toy grunts away. It has this odd sound mechanism that makes me feel like I’m sharing my bedroom with a baby boar. Her zeal for this creature makes me laugh.

Sometimes it’s the little things that are enough to get you up and out of bed and writing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I was reading my dad’s obituary yesterday. It’s still online and when I miss him it can be helpful to look at the long list of memories that other people shared on his site. I stopped when I read the phrase, “… is survived by….” 

I wrote his obituary with my mom, an ugly obligation when you are the writers in the family. I remember being in her bedroom. Mom sat on her blue upholstered couch, I across the way perched slightly higher on her four poster-bed. With rounded shoulders and our chins in our hands we asked each other, “Do we have to include that phrase?”

“I hate that saying,” I’m pretty sure I murmured. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

I never used to understand that phrase. Survived by. I mean sure, that makes sense if we were all in a terrible accident. If the cause of death was a storm, or a bus, or a tragedy that we were all involved in. If we were the ones to get out of the car and walk away scratch free. I didn’t survive his heart attack. I didn’t survive anything in the few days, weeks, early months of loss.

We included the two words.

Roy is survived by his wife, Christine Christman; daughter, Katie (Dylan) Huey and son, Sam Christman.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito. Olive continues to chew away.

I think the impact of those two words makes sense to me now. Thirteen months out, I have begun to survive Dad’s death. My family has begun to survive loss.

As humans, all of us are going to have to at some point – sorry Charlie.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I went to Good Friday service last Friday. This year the death part of the Easter story hit me differently. The pastor gracefully explained how deeply Jesus suffered on the cross – not in brutal, gory detail, but rather in focusing on the emotional exhaustion that comes from death.

Jesus experienced it too, hanging on the cross, crying out to God “Why have you forsaken me?” He experienced how breath becomes shallow, how head hangs low, how heart and spirit feel ripped away from the Creator of the Universe.  Jesus died. In dying, he felt the things that feel very much like grief.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

Grief can be unbelievable lonely, even when walking with people who lost the same person as you. On Friday, sitting in church in the dark, listening to Jesus’ final seven phrases, it hit me; Jesus has been through death too. This made me feel just a little bit better, a little closer to God, a little more hopeful, less lonely in the beginnings of survival.

On Sunday, I yelled “He is Risen” with enthusiasm. For Jesus rose again to take on our suffering, to walk with us through the dark, to say to ME “I get it. I’ve been there too.” This common ground never made sense to me until just this week. What a beautiful thing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt, ” says Cerdito.

I think survival is an interesting concept. Day to day we, as humans, are surviving. By breathing air and eating food and drinking water we make choices to keep on going, despite hardship. Death can be hardship, so can a million other things.

Yet choosing to find joy as the thread that connects all of the horrible can be a beautiful thing.  I’ll end my thoughts this week with a list of the beautiful threads of joy that have helped me begin to be a survivor of death of a loved one.

It is a new identity I’m tentatively beginning to put on – one arm in the sleeve of a scratchy sweater, not yet worn enough to be soft on my skin.

Those silly grunts from a pig, and tears, and communion in individual plastic cups.

New jobs for my husband, and naps, and spaghetti.

In meals cooked by my brother, breakfasts at the lunch counter at The Silver Grill.

Afternoons spent at my in-laws.

In Easter baskets, and morning light, and endless text message threads.

In acknowledging that we all, at some point, are going to survive something.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

 

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The Smell of Easter Lilies Makes Me Squirm

Right now, the smell of Easter Lilies makes me squirm. What once was such a welcomed fragrance turns my stomach over in memory of this time last year. I realized today, in a flood of grief-like fog, that Dad’s funeral was right at this time a year ago. No, not the actual date, but we had a hard time finding a church for the service because it was Holy Week. Churches are pretty booked in anticipation of the death of Christ. Not many openings for the death of a common man.

With Holy Week comes Easter Lilies. Beautiful flowers emitting a once-a -year scent. Those damn flowers are telling me to run the other way through grocery stores. So many people gave us beautiful lilies last year, but the timing of the gifts tainted my opinion of the blooms. I used to love those elegant flowers. This year, please keep the flowers and their symbolism away.

I wonder this if new revulsion may be similar to pregnancy – tastes and fragrances that once brought comfort are instead instantly turned into something else as we get ready to give birth to something new.

The metaphor is weak, I suppose, but I just keep thinking about how sometimes things we once loved change when you lose a loved one. And how maybe, just maybe, that process is ok. How through death I am being birthed into a new me. I am shedding skin of pre-death and even this first layer of post-death, like a snake, dropping layers and layers of unnecessary preferences. What remains is fresh skin. Raw skin that is a little bit sensitive to the light and indicators of time passing – like frickin’ seasonal Easter Lilies.

As I sat in church this weekend, I kept thinking about the comfort provided by the traditions of Holy Week. My dad was a minister when I was little and my parents used to hold huge Easter brunches in our backyard. Much of his congregation would attend. I remember matching dresses and egg hunts and little hats. I remember palms handed out on Palm Sunday and solemn trips to the Stations of the Cross – the crown of thorns, the smell of vinegar, nailing my sins scrawled on a notecard to a wooden cross. These experiences were so connected to who my dad was in his various roles at the church. They set the foundation for me to explore my own faith.

It has been eighteen years since my dad was in direct ministry, well nineteen now I suppose. As I approach another Holy Week, I find myself clinging to the memories of Dad in the church. Of his excitement as he passed out palms to the kids, the ceremonial seriousness he projected as he instructed the crowd to break bread in remembrance of Jesus. Have you noticed how on Good Friday, right around 2 or 3 pm, it always gets cloudy and dark? Dad would always point this out – the very real reminder that God still feels in his giving of his only son for us on the cross.

I also remember how last year my beautiful friend brought us a ham for Easter dinner, three short days after a funeral. I will never forget how that hunk of meat became a symbol of sustenance, hope, resurrection for our family in its newest, most raw and vulnerable form.

Thanks for hanging with me here – I’m not sure my thoughts are entirely connected. What I can say is there is beauty in the foundation of faith, in the way my father taught me to live through the history and truth of the Holy Week. Beauty in anticipating the death of Christ and the hope in his resurrection. Beauty in taking communion, in yelling “HE IS RISEN INDEED”, and in dwelling in the truth of Christ’s love for me. Beauty in remembering what brought you to this point and beauty in looking forward. Beauty in basking in the power of the cross.

Here – now you can yell it in Greek – just like Dad used to do.

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May Jesus meet you in unexpected ways this week.