Monday, July 14, 2008

I Hate Death (Part II)

Upon St. Helen's Day

Fast forward almost two decades during which I did not darken the doors of a church.

My partner's father died. I was with her every step of the way. She had never attended a funeral. That's when I learned to be grateful for my grandmother's dragging me to every funeral in our little town.

Then, in my forties, I finally found a home in the Episcopal Church and began to make my peace with God.

In my parish, I also became a crucifer, and I came to love that role in our liturgy. Because it was often difficult for our kids to get free during the day, I was often the person called to be crucifer at funerals. There was nothing as important and meaningful to me as being crucifer in those services. During the commendation, I always kept the cross held high. After a couple of funerals, my priest said, "You know, you don't need to hold the cross up throughout the commendation. You can rest it on the floor." It's a long part of the service, and our brass cross and wooden staff is pretty darn heavy. "Yes, I do," I said. That's all I said.

For almost every funeral, I was the person he called first to be crucifer. I cherished that opportunity to serve. He never asked me why, but he knew I wanted to be crucifer at funerals. Somehow, he knew it mattered to me and that I treasured that role.

And then his wife died of cancer after a long battle. It was awful to see it happen, knowing – as we all did – that she was not just his wife, but his soul mate. He asked me to be crucifer at the funeral, celebrated by our bishop.

The visitation was held in our church, and hundreds of people came. So many people had loved our priest and his wife. Eventually, near the end of the visitation time, I had a few moments to talk quietly, privately with our priest. He said how happy he was that I would be the crucifer the next day at the funeral.

I said something along these lines: "Do you know why I always wanted to be your crucifer at funerals? Do you know why it matters so much to me? – why I keep the cross aloft during the commendation? Because I hate death! And holding that cross aloft is a hopeful act of defiance. I'm saying to death: 'You don't ******* win this one!'"

The next day, at his wife's funeral, he sat in the front row. I kept the heavy cross aloft during the commendation. And when I turned 180 degrees to lead the procession and her human remains out of the church, our eyes locked. He knew. He knew what I was saying as I held that cross highly aloft.

I don't understand the resurrection, but I believe it happens somehow, in some meaningful way.

And, meanwhile, I see Death as the enemy. I recognize I've personified Death, anthropomorphized it. Death pisses me off – especially when it happens untimely.

I think that's part of the reason I've reacted so emotionally to Naomi's death.

And that's part of why I took Shug's death so hard … and worry so much about Scotty's. It's just not right that these creatures we love are ripped away from us so soon, too soon.

Issues? Yes, I have issues.

I hate Death.


Blogger Malcolm+ said...

Death is swallowed up in Victory.

What else is there to say?

7/14/2008 11:32 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Grief. That's what else there is to say, Malcolm. Pure. Raw. Grief.

Yes, I believe in the resurrection and the life everlasting.

But raw grief remains. And the creeds can't varnish it for me.

I still struggle with death.

7/14/2008 11:36 PM  
Blogger Tandaina- said...

Wow Lisa, thank you for sharing these too. I also served as crucifer at funerals and found it very important to me to do that.

I struggle with death too. Pat answers are easy, but the truth is every death is like a little holy week, every death has to go through the horror and pain and grief before there can be resurrection.

God wouldn't really understand us very much if God didn't expect us to still feel the sting.

I love your theology of that held aloft cross, I'll be thinking about that every funeral from now on!

7/15/2008 6:21 AM  
Blogger FranIAm said...

There are no words Lisa, but thank you and bless you.

7/15/2008 4:32 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks to you, Tandaina. As I wrote this, I remembered how I endured the last couple of Holy Weeks. Unless you go through the death and desolation, you can't really appreciate the Easter morning. Or at least that's how it feels to me.

7/17/2008 10:42 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

FranIAm, you are such a blessing. Truly!

7/17/2008 10:43 PM  
Anonymous JCF said...

I'm reminded of Anya, in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "The Body": when she screams (about death) "I don't understand! And nobody will tell me WHY!!!"

We're all right there with her---with you, Lisa.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down Death, by death;
And on those in the tombs bestowing Life.

7/25/2008 1:10 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, JCF. I can't say it makes the ache go away. I know it's a mystery.

Someday, God will explain it to me. ... Either it will become apparent to me, or else I will hold God's nose to the fire 'til God explains it to me. ;-)

8/08/2008 11:49 PM  

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