Sunday, September 06, 2015

Death. Again.

From as early as I can remember, I had cat companions.  My father insisted that they be indoor/outdoor cats, so what I remember from my childhood is a long line of cats I loved who died. Who died young and too soon.  And I remember my father who always seemed angry about them.  Only in my adulthood did I realize that he wasn’t actually angry at the cats. I think he was exhibiting anger in response to my deep grief when each of those cats died, and he was powerless to assuage my childhood grief. I guess that’s how dads responded in the 1960s.
Death and I were enemies. I hated death for taking so many of my beloved feline companions away from me.
Things got worse in my early 20s when a dear friend was butchered to death by murderers. It sent me into chaos. It truly changed the trajectory of my life.
Then the Episcopal Church found me, thanks be to God. I found comfort in the liturgy. With my fury about death, I especially found comfort in the Burial Rite. I became the crucifer who most often served at our parish funerals. When a beloved friend’s wife died in the late 1990s, he asked me to be crucifer at the funeral, and I agreed. We talked about it. He asked me why the role of crucifer matters so much to me, especially at funerals.  I explained: “I hate death. When I serve as crucifer at funerals, I carry that processional cross as high as I can. For in doing that, I’m telling Death: You don’t win! ”
By now, I would think I would be better prepared to deal with death.  But it seems I am not.
A dear friend’s wife has died, much too soon, in the past several days.  I will again serve as crucifer, for all the same reasons. (“O grave, where is thy victory?)  But. But. But. I can’t quit crying for my friend who has lost his wife and companion. I can’t quit crying for my friend who is going to bed alone for the first time in more than 30 years.  I can’t quit crying as I realize how futile are any words I can possibly offer.
I take comfort in our liturgy and I believe the words of the Prayer Book.  But my creature self is unevolved. A part of me still has  thick red fur and no words and just wants to cuddle with another creature.
What words can I possibly offer my friend?  All I can imagine is a gesture of wild creatures, who lean up against each other without a sound. I wish I could do only that, for I have not one word of wisdom or adequate solace to share with my friend.  I wish I could just lean into him like foxes. Silent. Fierce. Compassionate. Wild. Howling. And howling.
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."