Grieving The Living

I knew the perfume of dying nearly before I knew I was alive.

My mother made sure of it.

Into the funeral homes she dragged me way before I had outgrown GI Joe.  I owned a single clip-on tie when I caught first whiffs of cigarette smoke boiling around the quietly aged men huddled at the mortuary doors.  Past the cobalt blue carnations, into rooms bathed in organ music that made me not want to go to heaven, we went tiptoeing in reverence.  The caskets held frills I feared to touch.  Colors I never wanted to see again.  The deaths of my childhood smelled of unfiltered Camels and toilet water and flowers we would never give someone who was alive.  To a boy, it was as unreal as the Munsters.  A macabre little show where no one ever really dies.

Death is real to me now.  It has been for a long while.  But as never before, it whispered its silence to me this morning.  My 91 year old mom woke feeling unwell.  A weakness in her eyes staggered into mine.  She ached all over, so I ached for her and with her.  As I made her something to eat in the other room, the reality of all that funereal boyhood became the real silence of manhood.  My mother was alive and not so well, but still with me in the other room.  She was there.  She is here, among us.  Not gone.  But the thought of her absence came up into me as stout as odor of carnations.  The stench of boyhood grieving.

For a moment, I grieved the living.  It came dressed in the black of inevitable death, but this grief stepped squarely into my way in shoes of bright red.  Of a shade that said her blood is still in motion.  Her life a glow undimmed.  Age is no match for life, but it does keep Dying on a string, dangling toward an open-ended date.  Today, I grieved my mother’s date with Death, and found myself unspeakably glad she is alive.  More glad than ever in my life.

To grieve the living is a gratitude for life in those we love. I learned that today.   It is not morbid to glance at Death and look away.  Make a short eye contact, then run off grateful somewhere.  The organ music will wait.  Toilet water will stand still in odd little bottles.  Funeral home phones will pause to toll for those we adore.  Not yet.  We are not done loving them.  Their carnations have not yet bloomed.  And we are so very, very glad.


4 Responses to “Grieving The Living”

  1. Annette Leonard Says:

    So true, your words. As a young girl I to was taken to funerals. Not quite understanding why. That was just the way it was. I enjoy reading your post, thank you for such honest feelings.

  2. You are quite the writer. Only in God can onemstand the dark morbid side of death. For He erases that side and enters the bright and beautuful one. There is the now time with our loved ones. Perhaps the greatest would be the lingering presence of our Mother.
    Or Father. Or child. That being endless, calls us still to the now. Now, rhe time to catch as it quickly passes on. And one would,believe you portrayed that in your writing. Thanks be unto God that in HIM the passing can remain the now, as we await our time to join them. Then it is the aeternal NOW!

  3. Michael,
    Your words read right off my own heart today.
    It doesn’t escape me how blessed I am to still have both my parents here with me. Im reminded again of how we should all realise the “open-ended” day of death dangling on a string in front of us, so that the gratitude for life manifests in our every living moment.

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom Psalm 90:21

    For you…..⤴😌

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