May 30 The video on preventive medicine at Sunday school was the usual “eat right, exercise, have a good positive attitude," etc., etc. One class member protested that the speaker in the video laid too much guilt on people who are ill who do all those things and yet do not recover. I find myself with sensitive radar looking for little wisps of hope. To blame Christine for her own death because she wasn’t eating right, not exercising, not having the right attitude, is ridiculous. She devoted her life to staying well--healthful food, yoga, meditation, spiritual direction, bringing beauty into her life through friends. She believed she could affect her own health.
Lord, give me healing of spirit and soul and the strength to dispose of her belongings—car, clothes, household effects. She wanted everything to be given to the poor—no garage sale, no one making money off her stuff. Her spirit had always been with the poor and street people. I can hardly face carrying out of her house what we just carried into it a few months ago.
Chris is safely in the bosom of God. Take good care of her, Lord. She is precious to many people. We need our Christine and her generous smile that lit up a room.
May 31 Kathy and I went to Christine’s place and sorted everything in the kitchen. The bathroom is empty and the bedroom two-thirds empty. But the living room is now piled with stuff that has to find a recipient. My knee aches desperately from unaccustomed bending and carrying.
June 1 Life must go on--and on and on. What do you say when someone says they are praying for you? Thank you? It doesn’t seem right to turn healing for my pain into a business transaction in which prayer is handed over like a casserole.
June 4 Friends drop by. Sometimes we chuckle at memories of the last days: the plethora of preachers at the hospital—two each from three Mennonite churches, several Catholic religious leaders, hospital chaplain, hospice friends. I used to tease Christine about her joppa, a Russian word for buttocks. But I cried inwardly because they looked like empty little bags of wrinkled skin hanging on bony structures.
Kathy sang an old children’s hymn at the funeral: “Children of the heavenly father, safely in his bosom gather. Such a refuge ne’er was given.” Chris is now safe in her heavenly Father’s bosom.
June 5 The days are quiet and long, interrupted by trips to her place to do more sorting. Will I ever forget what she looked like at the end or will it always be that last memory of her sitting on the commode, weak, thin, drawn, lopsided smile, always courteous. And the fetal position she drew into more and more? Why can’t I retrieve the memory of her radiant smile?
Time moves slowly, too slowly as I sit here. I check the time. Later, I check it again. Only three minutes have passed. Yet the march of death once it began went too fast.
In church people ask “How are you?” I find that difficult to answer. People don’t know how to console. Their idea is that grief is like a cold—give it a week and you get over it. I am struggling with guilt and unanswered questions about Christine’s death. I am angry at the doctors for not saying openly, “Christine is dying” until we forced it out of them.
People wanted to help but didn’t know how. One pastor bounced into her hospital room, with a loud “How are things here today?” hoping for a cheery “Just fine.” Catholic friends dropped silently to their knees near her hospital bed to be on eye level with her and to pray. A former nun friend sang Gregorian chants and invited death to come. I remember telling her that was okay.
Viktor Frankl’s writing helped me when Walter died. He wrote about the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp: “One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simple vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.” Do I have the inner strength to accept the challenge once again to deal with this grief, long expected, never wanted?
June 6 A beautiful morning. I went out and pulled weeds. Yesterday I mowed the lawn. I am slowly moving into a routine without Christine who featured large in my life in recent weeks, going to the doctor, for shots, for visits with her spiritual director. She is gone and I am here. I give away her things –coats to Inter-Faith Ministries, household effects to the Salvation Army, her car to a charity, her books to friends. My heart says, “Don’t! She will need them again.” My head says, “She’s not coming back.”
This is a different kind of separation from the death of a spouse. Then it was like a part of me, a wing, was torn off, leaving me unable to soar. Now it’s like surgery without anesthetic. My life changes little outwardly. I go to bed and get up. I eat meals alone and arrange my schedule. But I feel a deep wound. A child should not die before a parent. It is a death out of season. Parents who have lost children identify with me. They understand.
I had sent a short biographical sketch to sponsors of an event at which I was to speak. As I listened to it read I noticed I had left in that I have four children. But I don’t. I have two daughters and a son. There was another one, but she is gone.
June 7 Little stories about the funeral trickle back. One of my son’s co-workers said when he heard the tribute to Christine and all she had accomplished despite 27 years of ill health, “Where’s a revolver? Shoot me now! I’ll never make it that far!”
I couldn’t sleep last night again. It bothered me that family members took things they thought they should have –books, CDs, small items. I am overly sensitive. I keep seeing Christine at the end, weary, in pain, when I want to have my final image of her laughing, singing, planning, speaking, hosting a tea party. Tea parties meant being with friends. But that image of her and her smile eluded me. Finally, I took one of Christine’s sleeping pills.
People feel it is their duty to comfort the bereaved with nice words. I try to be gracious. I wouldn’t want them not to do this.
Why do the good die young? How do I live with this hole in my heart? I think through Christine’s symptoms the last time I took her to the doctor: insomnia/ trouble breathing/swelling in abdomen and legs/loose bowels/ weight loss/ extreme fatigue/problems holding food down/ depression/ulcer on her leg that didn’t heal, bruises all over/ tremors/congestive heart failure/ uric acid deposits on her fingers, elbows and feet. Why didn’t a doctor say clearly this is the end? Are doctors also afraid to face death?
In Greek tragedy, one death or suicide follows another, until the protagonist stands alone, but that person has speech, as Fortinbras has in Hamlet. He turns to the gods, who are silent, to nature, to self. I have speech. I have language. I write about my grief. I wait for my God to speak. My God is not a silent God. A mourner is someone who has allowed pain to enter her life and, like the psalmist, in the laments, speaks out. God, I am a mourner of a daughter who died too soon. Hear me, hear me.