Saturday, June 13, 2009
For CarlaToday I went to Carla's memorial services. She was a fellow mother from my kids' elemetary school; her eldest and my eldest were in kindergarten together, and we moved in those circles for over a decade, watching our children grow in a sort of time lapse fast forward, while we felt we were staying the same. We age slower, we moms, but unfortunately her cancer cells were over-achievers, racing to win, and finally doing so. She died the week before her youngest son graduated sixth grade.
She was a lovely person. Reserved and gracious and graceful. I never felt I knew her very well until she found out that the cancer had returned, about three years ago. And it was in the way she died, that I learned to know her life. I learned what a spiritual being she was, and watched how she approached her fight with grace and a certain type of gratitude. She wasn't complacent, oh no. She hated this thing and hated what it was doing to her. But each step of the way she took in stride, sending out intermittent email reports that detailed her medical challenges and also let us all in on how she was dealing with them, mentally, emotionally, practically, and spiritually.
A group of women in our group banded together to bring her and her family meals, sending out schedules every month, and unflaggingly delivering them dinner several times a week. I was never able to help out, and I felt small, and powerless, and silent in the face of what she was going through. And yet, I knew... it was OK. She was the kind of person who would get how busy I was, single and raising the boys and maintaining a job. She got it.
So today I gathered with a large group of people to honor her. We gathered together at All Saints Church, and we sang hymns and participated in much needed, healing ritual. We clustered in groups and we shed tears and we smiled when we saw each other and then, remembering the context, immediately grew solemn again. The service was beautiful. It did what we needed it to do, giving us a context in which to grieve while providing a safety zone of structure and community in which to let down our guard, be vulnerable in the face of loss, and regroup with words of peace and prevailing joy and a greater plan that allows for this, and the joys of life as well. Whether we believed in the literal words or not, they were good to hear, a balm to the soul, just as intended.
Afterwards we gathered at their house and saw testaments to her life. Pictures on the wall, her friends and family standing up to speak about her, giving her life a collage of story and context and perspective.
It was a hard day for that family. One that had to be endured. One with so much input, so much extraordinary emotion, so much grief; I looked at her boys and wondered just how much they could possibly be taking in, and whether they knew that -- as hard as this day was -- it would not be as hard as the days they've been through, nor would it be as hard as the day six months hence, six years hence, six decades hence, when they would still miss their mother, it would still be unfair, and it would still be utterly and coldly and bleakly real.
And in the midst of it, I could not escape the fact that Roger and I are about to do almost the exact thing in exactly two weeks. We are orchestrating a large gathering of people, to go through a ritual together, to weep poignant tears together, to experience and embrace impermanence together. We are also renting table cloths and buying cases of wine and trying to determine how many cups to buy. We are also buying new clothing and coordinating with friends and figuring out how to get through a day of extraordinary emotion without losing it ourselves.
Whereas Carla's funeral was a celebration of life in the face of death, our wedding is going to be a celebration of impermanence in the face of life. The thing that makes us cry at both events is the tragic, inescapable reality of the fragility and the impermanence of this sweet sad frustrating mysterious existence. No matter how hard we try, the moments slip through our fingers like sand in an hour glass. We cry at funerals because of the finality of seeing our loved one's hour glass empty. I will never be able to bring them dinner. We will never see her face again. The boys have lost their mother in the receding rivers of time.
We cry at weddings because we know love has the potential to fade, that the two lives bonded together can so easily change their directions, and that death eventually will prevail, for all of us. Every union is momentary in duration. Every promise is weighted with caveat. Every kiss -- so sweet, so bitter -- is grounded in the knowledge that there will eventually be a last kiss, a last touch, a last breath.
We cry at both. We laugh at both. The difference is the infinitely small line between the yin and the yang. There is not one without the other. The ache of the funeral informs the champagne cork of the wedding. We have knowledge of both when we celebrate either. It is the dance, it is the only dance, and it is impossible to embrace either one alone.
We cry because we are safe, for the moment of time during the ritual, to relish the bittersweetness. We cry because it is good, from time to time, to not push the knowledge aside, to let it crush us just a little bit. We cry because it is real. And we cry for joy because we have the ability to cry for sadness.
We are amazing beings, we humans. We create elaborate systems to get us through these moments of intensity and pain. We lose ourselves in checklists to avoid having to see the big picture more often than we can bear. And we are able to give each other the love, the support, the tender touches that we all need to get through a day like this intact. Wherever her family is, wherever you are, I wish us all a respite from care... in sleep, in love, in the peace that may come from embracing the dance with the equanimity and grace that Carla showed us in her brief passage on this earth.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:02 PM 1 comments