Once

“Grace always bats last.”

*Vulnerability alert – choosing to share my sticky emotions because they too have a place for beauty. Continue reading if you so desire.*

 

I am getting ready to celebrate my birthday this week. We went to a play with my mom and my brother on Friday evening. It was a lovely performance full of live music and dancing and emotion. Pure passion put on stage with a mixture of honesty, struggle, heart. Just what art should do for us. My dad was not with us, just as he won’t be with us for the rest of my life. And friends, it makes my heart ache.

We are getting closer to the year anniversary of his death, and they say that as you move through all of the monumental dates in the first year without your loved one, a weight can be lifted. I hope what they say is true.

I am taking time to honor the beautiful tears that come when you acknowledge loss, the waves of deep sadness that come right along side the desire to celebrate, to move on, to be cheerful.

I am scared to turn another year older without him.

And then, just today, I came across this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott and remembered that ‘oh yes, I am so very far from being alone.’ I’m cheating a little and sharing the words of another. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Anne Lamott writes,

When people we can’t live without die, everyone likes to quote John Donne, “Death be not proud.” Yeah yeah yeah, thank you for sharing. My father died of brain cancer when he was seven years younger than I am now. He was my closest person. I did not love it. My best friend died years ago, leaving behind an 18 month old daughter. She was my closest person. I did not love it, or agree to it, and just barely survived it.

My darling friend Ann Brebner passed away early Friday. (You were so incredibly generous to donate to the fund for her home-care. Your generosity has given me such huge abiding hope in Goodness and miracles. We were down to almost no money. She accidentally spent her life creating and directing plays, loving us crazily, laughing and listening to music, giving to charity, instead of investing.)

Maybe this passing seems less death-y, as she was 93. But believe me, she had done the dying part, the closing-up-shop part, the leaving-us part, just like everyone has to do. It’s death 101 for everyone here on the incarnational side of things: we do it with no owner’s manual (Death for Dummies?) , and at the end, alone. If I were God’s West Coast representative, I would have a different system in place, i.e. less mysterioso Ouija board enigma. More grok-able My grandson stood nearby her at church as she sometimes painstakingly got out of our car. He always called her Ann Brevner, one word. “Hi, Annbrevner!” I told him Friday night that she had passed, and his mouth dropped open. “AnnBREVNER died?” he asked. Then, “I wonder what that’s like? Dying?”

So I thought I would tell you what I know, because this thing, this aspect of reality, this weird scary aspect of life, can just wreck everything if you don’t figure out at some point that it is what makes life so profound, meaningful, rich, complex, wild. If you try to outrun this existential truth, with manic achievement and people-pleasing and exotic distractions, it begins to argue a wasted life. Everyone we love–and I am just going to add, in a whisper, even our children and nieces and nephews–will die. They will no longer be here, on this side of eternity. We Christians see death as just being a fairly significant change of address, but still, our most cherished people will no longer be here, to have and to hold, or reach by phone.

This can kind of ruin everything. When my son was little, he asked if we would die at the exact same moment. When I said, No, probably not, he wept, and then said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

Do you want to have instant meaning and incentive and almost heartbreaking appreciation in your life? Live, starting now–as if you have three months left. At some point, this will true. Tick tock.

But won’t death be scary? Annbrevner’s wasn’t. Just weird. Her death, like every passing I have witnessed, was beautiful, gentle, sometimes hard and confusing, and completely doable. At some point, for almost everyone, it is like being in labor. Especially if, like me, dilated 7 centimeters after 24 hours of labor, you realized you didn’t like children. But in both cases, birth and death, something beautiful is coming. Ram Dass said death would be like FINALLY getting to take off the too-small shoes we had been wearing our entire lives. Think of that. Getting to rub those sore arches and wiggle those baby toes, after all these year feeling cramped, like Chinese foot bound women, tiptoeing to minimize the pain.

But back to my grandson’s question, of what dying will be like, and why, I don’t think you need to be afraid:

So many people will surround you, your dearest family and friends, both the quick and the death–Ann’s father, who died fifty years ago was with her; her son who died last year was with her. And we were with her, encouraging and allowing her to be real, to share her deepest thoughts and and fears about what was happening to her, and how annoying liFe (and we) could be. The most important you can do if someone is dying? Show up; listen; nod.

And maybe even more important, we shared with each other our worries, memories, sorrow, impatience, and anxiety about the process, how much more, and much sooner, we could have done this or that. We showed up, we listened to each other, we told others how much we hated everything, and how much we loved each other, we listened some more, we nodded, and put the kettle on for tea.

We let each other complain and not know what we were doing. We tried to remember what we DID know: that the great cosmic Something had always been there before. That the Divine It had brought us and our beloved ones through ghastly loss, disappointment, and failure, against all odds. That crying and grieving heal us, cleanse us, baptize us, moisturize us, water the seeds hidden deep in the ground at our feet.

Our pastor came to anoint her the day before she died, not knowing if Ann’s home-going was an hour or a month away. Hospice was on hand to help with the pain. (If you know your person is dying, call Hospice. Once Hospice is on board, almost everything will sort itself out, I promise you–everything. Secret of life.

Every single person I have loved and lost had us around–their most beloved–and had Hospice, had the richest most astonishing love and sense of safety at the end. They had peace, like a river. Even if their death was sudden, Grace always bats last. They got to take off the tight shoes. They got their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Death? Be as proud as you want: bore me later, because Love is sovereign here. Life never ends. Joy comes in the morning. Glory hallelujah. And let it be so.

 

joy

Yes, even grief can be beautiful. And people who show up to wipe your tears and honor your loss are beautiful as well. Joy comes in the morning. The sun will still rise, God will still be present, we can still choose to get to living. After all, this thing called death is a part of it.

Psalms 34:18 is also beautiful too.

Advertisements

“Once”

I think I was six or maybe seven the first time I got to go to the theater. I remember a lot of details about my first outing to “The Nutcracker”. I went with my cousins, both of whom are close to me in age, and their nanny, who dressed us up and encouraged us to behave for the evening that would be very special. I wish I had a copy of the picture of the three of us, sitting on the top arm of the couch as we anxiously awaited our evening out. I remember what I wore, a floral velvet dress with a lace bib that had a lovely print of Snow White across the front. I remember holding hands with Lauren and Leah in the back of the car, and getting to order a special treat in the lobby. I remember the thrill I had as the sugar plumbs danced across the stage, and the way the music floated through the air and into my heart. And, I remember how I stepped on a Junior Mint,  and it melted all over my little Mary Janes and the nanny spent a lot of time scrapping the minty goo off of my shoes until she would let me back in that car so we could go home. For those of you who know me, this spilling, making a mess incident is nothing new – not surprising that while falling in love with theater and the stage I also had a “Spilling Incident.” For a couple of months whenever I encountered the nanny I would glare at her, hoping to communicate my shame and embarrassment at that spill directly into her heart. Not my fault I stepped on the chocolatey mess. Don’t you know that’s just what Katie does?

While I may have grown out of that Snow White dress, and am getting better at managing my spilling incidents…… I have not outgrown my love of theater. I have had the immense privilege of a few outings to the Buell Theater, shows on Broadway, and appreciation for the arts and singing and dancing and the wonderful creation of stories acted out on stage. This week I got to go to the performance of “Once” at the Buell Theater. The tickets were my Christmas present, and I had waited five months to see the show. What a wonderful demonstration of talents, acting and beautiful music. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, check out the documentary style film, and listen to the music and take any opportunity you can to acquaint yourself with a story that so many longing people can relate to. I don’t act, and don’t play instruments, and I was blown away by the small cast that not only acted, but performed all the music themselves.

Image

This story, too, has a little bit of back story in my life. A few years ago, when my brother was in the midst of turmoil with drugs and alcohol, and our family was on his roller coaster, I had the opportunity to see the band The Swell Season that performs this music. That one night brought life to my aching heart, and I could connect with the music in a way that was just what I needed for that time in my life. That is what is so wonderful about music and about stories isn’t it – it gives us something to connect to? This story will always have a special place in my heart; these musicians too portray every day live with amazing simplicity. Humor, love, desire, passion for life and owning one’s stories. I can get behind all of these things. I’m sure I’m not portraying the beauty well myself here, and so I turn, instead, to my heart, and let the joy bubble and simmer within itself in appreciation for what this story does for me. Check out the music, tap into the story, and see what “Once” can bring to you.

Below is the funniest clip of the music done by The Swell Season below. I love it… and hope you will too.