|The House by the Tracks (M.A. Reilly, 2009)|
"I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering--but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are." - James Baldwin, The Fire Next TimeI.
For the last year I have tried to find meaning in Rob's sickness and in his death. I've wanted to soothe what seems impervious to soothing. Since his death, I experience, most often daily, a reoccurring shock. How could a man just 60 who so imbued life with such joy, optimism, and love wake with a sharp pain in his side one morning in late summer and 6 months later die?
I've sought an explanation I could hold in hand.
I have wanted to hold something concrete.
I noticed recently that I keep track of ages now.
I'm driving when I hear the end of a news show. The announcer says that the young man, the subject of the show, began a museum. He died at age 32 from cancer. I stop listening and catalogue the age and death. Later another announcer will say that Gene Wilder has died at 83. On Facebook I read that a man I worked with a few years ago lost his wife, who was just 46.
The age at death fascinate me now. And each announcement I measure against Rob's death: younger, same age, older.
I see now that my understanding of death is immature, ill informed. Without a strong spiritual belief, death leads nowhere. It is a wall that cannot be passed through.
I think about this as I read Thomas Merton's Love and Living. There he wrote, "Yet merely to declare that when a living being ceases to live, it 'dies,' is perhaps to say nothing of any importance at all" (p. 97). Without a spiritual grounding the most profound meaning I can muster is that there is none. Death severed from life is meaningless. We live. We die.
Merton understands death as a doorway we walk through. He writes that human death allows us to "receive the gift of pure actuality in the love of God" (p. 105). For Merton we undergo several deaths: the death of the ego as we move from child to adult; the death of more juvenile ideas as we mature, the death of the body. Merton writes, "As man grows into other stages of human development, he realizes that there are ways in which life affirms itself by consenting to end" (p. 101).
Consenting to end.
Early in Love and Living Merton tells us, "And whatever you do, every act, however small, can teach you everything— provided you see who it is that is acting" (p. 14). I know this inquiry into who is acting is important. With what voice do I utter these words?
Everyone dies. The pain of knowing even beloved husbands die years too early sticks with me.
Towards the end of Rob's life he told me he believed in God. He said it as if it was a foregone conclusion and frankly I was a bit surprised. But I watched as he moved through denial he was dying. He seemed to forget the prognosis. Then I watched as he was trying to remember an important appointment he needed to attend. During this time he was so busy moving and fixing things I could not see with his hands. Then there was the raw and painful acceptance that he was dying and that he wanted to end his life. He told Devon he would be dead by 2:30. Then there was the move to a greater interior life where he told me he had to figure out how to cross over and later that he had figured this out. Last there was the consenting to end as I watched my husband slip from here to somewhere else.
Not a wall, but a window, a door, an opening.
To sever Rob's life from his death is to close a door, wall up a window, render one a cripple. Death is not the event. It is not.