A Lent that Begins and Ends with Death
February 23, 2021
Ascension by Colleen Hitchcock
And if I go, while you’re still here,
Know that I live on,
vibrating to a different measure,
behind a thin veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me, so you must have faith.
I wait for the time we can be together again,
both aware of each other.
Until then, live your life to its fullest,
and when you need me,
just whisper my name in your heart.
I will be there.
I had a particularly difficult beginning to my Lenten wilderness this year. On Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, I said my final goodbye to my Uncle Gregg. At that point, he was not communicative or very responsive, but when I finished talking and praying, my dad said that he reached out his hand. He died early the next morning. Two days shy of his 61st birthday and just 6 weeks after having been diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer.
I cannot help but think about all those who have had a loved one died in the last year due to COVID and for any other reason. For so many, the pandemic has prevented families from memorializing, celebrating, and mourning their loved one how they would like to or according to their traditions. It’s heartbreaking that so many have been unable to receive the closure and peace of mind they need, that they deserve.
A small number of family and friends decided to gather in honor of my uncle – masked in a very large funeral home room, spread out in a very large sanctuary, and, an even smaller number at the cemetery. It felt familiar yet strange, it lacked a sense of finality for me or somehow didn’t feel as meaningful as I hoped it would.
Grief is an extremely personal and individual experience; I do not mean that it is something one should experience in isolation. What I mean is that no two persons grieve the same way. In fact, an individual will likely grieve differently for each death or loss they experience.
So although I had the opportunity to grieve with family in the way we normally would have, with some minor changes, it turned out that wasn’t what I needed to make peace with my uncle’s death. The goodbye I spoke to my uncle on Ash Wednesday was all the closure I needed. That goodbye was final for me, it was the most authentic and meaningful conversation I have ever had with my uncle so I’m glad it was our last.
I was grateful to have been present for my uncle’s funeral because I know my dad, grandfather, and uncle’s wife found it comforting, but this experience of death in this Lenten wilderness has reinforced for me the importance of preparation, but also reminded me that you can never be fully prepared; renewed my understanding that we each walk our own journey, but we do not walk it alone; and revealed again that the power of faith should never be underestimated.
God of life and death, be near in our moments of grief. Give us courage, and let us allow ourselves, to grieve however is authentic to our loss. Strengthen us for this wilderness, for our preparation. And for all the ways we cannot be fully prepared, strengthen our faith to fill those spaces. Don’t let us underestimate our faith or ourselves. We must walk this journey, but we do not walk it alone. May we find comfort and hope in that and in the great mystery that is our faith. Amen.