Still other times, it strikes unexpectedly without reason or warning. Last week was one of those times.
Death and I have always had a strange relationship. I know Death is a necessary evil. I know Death has a job to do. I have no qualms with that. Once in an adult Sunday School class, Ed and I read a book by Leslie Weatherhead called The Will of God. In it, the author discusses the reasons for Death's existence, and asks if we truly would want to live in a world without Death. How precious would life be then, if it were unending? our class was asked. How precious would the sun be without the rain? How precious would good health be without sickness? Oh yes, he makes some good points for the necessity of Death.
The times when Death and I part ways are times when Death comes prematurely. In the normal scheme of things, the passing of one who has had a long, well-lived, happy life leaves me sad, but I am not angry.
This week and I am both sad and angry - because a few days ago, Death reached out and took a gentle soul a mite too early. We were not prepared to wake up to a world without cousin Mike. It just didn’t seem possible. He was only 49.
I’m getting angry these days with a plethora of lives taken under age 50. My best friend, Bernie, died before she turned 50. A woman who worked at my hospital died in a motorcycle wreck last week. She was 40. And all I can say over and over is my tired old mantra - “It’s not fair!”
And so I cry. I cry because I will miss Mike. I cry to think what his parents and brothers and partner and two sons will have to deal with every day. I cry because I am not able to attend the funeral in Arkansas. I cry because of the pain I hear in the voices of my relatives. I cry because I am totally helpless. I cry because I should be the one comforting my eldest cousin, and instead, he is comforting me. I cry because I wish I had been with Mike more. I cry because I know that other loved ones can be gone in the blink of an eye without warning. I cry because life is not fair.
For those of my readers who don’t know the story, it’s the tale of a brother (my uncle) and a sister (my mother) who married two wonderful people many years ago. My uncle and aunt had 3 sons. My mother and father had 2 daughters. And so were brought into this world 5 cousins who would be forever bonded in love. My sister and I, bereft of real brothers, looked upon these cousins as the brothers we never had. Most of our childhood and adult years, we lived in different states. But just the mention of an impending visit from the McDonald cousins, and our Saturday mornings would be totally immersed in glorious anticipation. A visit to Little Rock by us would awake the same excitement. Our cousins were a joy to be with. Our visits always came too infrequently and were over too quickly.
Mike was the youngest. He was quiet, shy, a little reserved, but had a delightful sense of humor. The camaraderie between the 3 boys was amazing. Of course, there was always that bit of competition and good-natured teasing, but their bond was unbreakable. They were always there for each other.
We 5 cousins all got together one last time during our trip to Tennessee, when we traveled to Little Rock to see everyone in August. We couldn’t resist an opportunity to get a rare picture of the 5 of us together. As you can see above, the picture speaks for itself. The smiles just show our happiness at being together. Life was sweet. Our dear Mike, on the far right, was relaxed and jovial, having just entertained me with stories about getting materials from his brother’s new house construction to build the most beautiful koi pond in his backyard. He had me laughing uncontrollably as he described the borrowed pickup truck getting lower and lower to the ground with each haul.
None of us knew that Mike would be gone in a few weeks. Oh, sure, in the back of our minds there is always the possibility of death, disease, accidents or some other catastrophe overtaking one in our family group. But that day, we banished bad thoughts and just basked in love. The world was ours!
I said that the bond between the brothers could not be broken. The bond between the 5 cousins cannot be broken, either. Their strength is carrying me through this horrible week. The bond is still very much alive. It stretches over distance and time and Death cannot sever it.
So after the tears and the remembering and the gratitude that we had Mike in our lives, in the silence as I sit here empty and drained, the words of this anthem come as a much-needed gift:
Open our eyes, open our eyes, O loving and compassionate Jesus that we may behold You, that we may be behold You, walking beside us, walking beside us in our sorrow.
You have made death glorious and triumphant. You have made death glorious and triumphant! For through its portals we enter, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the Living God, into the presence of the Living God. For through its portals we enter, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the Living God, into the presence of the Living God. Open our eyes, open our eyes, O loving and compassionate Jesus, that we may see to follow You, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus our Savior, Jesus our Savior and Redeemer. Open our eyes, open our eyes, oh Lord. Amen.