Today is about death…

I didn’t wake up this morning, after a rough night of interrupted sleep, thinking about death. I woke up wondering what time it was. You know that feeling where you didn’t have to set the alarm so you wonder what year it is when you finally open your eyes? That’s the head space I was in when I finally opened my eyes today. Then I checked my phone. The first thing I noted was I’d managed to sleep until ten. In the world of me, that’s remarkable. Then I saw the messages from my mom. They were innocuous on the surface. “Call me when you’re up?” But there was more than one.

A close family friend… no… a man who was family by choice, passed this morning. He’d been part of our family since I was twelve. I haven’t seen him in ten years, since we moved out of state, but there was still a connection between the two families. His birthday was two days before my mom’s. His daughter’s birthday is one day before my brother’s. And his middle son, my best friend through high school, shares my birthday. We celebrated holidays and birthdays as a group. We celebrated the birth of children as a group. My son grew up thinking this man and his wife were his other set of grandparents. When I was a teenager, decisions were even harder for me than they are now, so when we’d all go out to lunch after church, he’d order for me. It was a kindness that seemed so small to the outside world, but made lunch something I could look forward to rather than dread. When the youth group went on a ski trip and got snowed out (the most NC thing I can think of), my mom couldn’t get to the church to pick me up (our car wasn’t snowstorm ready) so he drove many, many miles out of his way to make sure I got home safely. He was that cool uncle who was there when you needed someone.

This news came on the heels of an email I received yesterday. The pastor of the church where my school rents space passed away. He was my friend, but more than that, he accepted me and my own beliefs toward faith without trying to change them. In fact, he was excited about having someone to speak to about the parallels between my beliefs and his. We often spent chunks of time while I was working in the narthex (the area I’d set up my desk while I was clerking) discussing religion and writing and the off-limits topic of Covid response. It was a discussion that never turned sour, whether we agreed or not. He’d written a couple of books and gave me signed copies in exchange for a signed copy of one of mine. We bonded over the ability to be who we were in a world that tries to streamline people into being something different, something more acceptable. He pastored me more than any of my own pastored ever bothered to do, choosing to do so through friendship and approval of who I am as a person. Gentle acceptance seemed to be his approach to the world and it definitely created a bond between us.

Today is about death, because both of these men had a huge impact on my existence and they were both, all of a sudden, gone. Today is about death because grief is important. It’s important to face what your feeling head on instead of burying it. Today is about death because it is about celebrating the life that came before; the life that is still left to live for all of us still here. We love people and they die. That’s the reality of love. It’s hard to accept people into your world, knowing that they will leave. But I’m glad that both of these truly remarkable men passed through my life because they both left a mark. Today is about death, but it is also about life.

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