Sunday, September 23, 2012

A time to mourn.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stone, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For ones I love, these days are mourning days. And weeping days. And laughing days. And loving days. And embracing days. And sometimes dancing days. And for one among us, today was a dying day.

The one was Spencer's mother, Janice, who passed away this morning, at 2:00 am, after a year of mornings, and afternoons, and evenings of battling cancer. Spencer was with her, holding her, as were nearly all of his siblings. I had slipped downstairs five minutes before to read about Zion, but bounded back up when Spencer called my name.

His mama's breath was no longer labored; it was no longer breath. Before or after, her strong heart beats beating in her strong heart quieted, until they too were silent. Everyone hugged each other for a long time, gently weeping. This passing was expected, but still painful. Despite that, it was still peaceful. So very peaceful.

Throughout this hard but tender week, I have frequently found myself thinking, "Death is holy. It is sacred. Mourning is sacred." It was sacred to watch Spencer's sisters flutter around their mother, administering care with a combination of grace, gentleness, and skill. It was sacred to sit beside Spencer as he sat beside the woman who bore him, who is his exemplar in almost all things. It was sacred to hear him speak to her, and tell her firmly that he will see her everywhere: in his sisters, in himself, in his father, in his next building, etc.

It was equally sacred to hear him tell her that, he "will remember her, okay?" because remembering those who have died is one of the purest works of love that we can give. (If you don't believe me, just ask Kierkegaard.) It was sacred for me to spend yesterday morning dancing with Spencer and our baby nephew across the living room, before spending the afternoon cleaning it. It was sacred to see Spencer's maternal uncle enter the home earlier in the week with the purpose of making every meal, so his younger sister's family would be both nourished and free to spend their time with their beloved matriarch. It was sacred to weep and pray and sing when there was nothing else to be done. When stories were told, it became sacred to laugh.

Again, death itself, is sacred. I believe this, because I believe that birth and death are the opposite sides of the same coin, and that that coin is life, or "the plan of salvation," or whatever you want to call it. Part of me wondered this week if heaven's words for death and birth might be reversed. I can picture spirits in heaven mourning the loss of one they love, prior to that individual's birth into our world, as we mourn the loss of them after they return to theirs. Regardless, I am glad that there is always rejoicing, on at least one side, and that Janice's deceased loved ones can welcome her back again in a new birth.

I also thought of my favorite story, with the Little Prince I love so much. When it was time for the small prince to return to his rose, on a planet, on a star far away, he asked the aviator narrator not to come, saying, "I shall look as if I were suffering. I shall look a little as if I were dying. It is like that. Do not come to see that. It is not worth the trouble..." His friend could only repeat: "I shall not leave you. I shall not leave you." He did indeed, come anyway. At that new moment, the Little Prince said, "It was wrong of you to come. You will suffer. I shall look as if I were dead; and that will not be true..." When his friend said nothing, he continued, "You is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy." When again nothing, "But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells..."

And there isn't. (Or there is, but it is still okay.) What looks like dying isn't always dying. Or it isn't always permanent dying. It wasn't when Christ was crucified, and it isn't for us.

The veil between earth and heaven is so thin. I can feel its thinness.

This is the way I remember her best:


naomi said...

Thanks for this post. We'll be mindful of you and Spencer's family. And humanity in general.

Little Lisa said...

I am sad to hear of her passing but happy to know she is still so very near.

So very near.

Katie said...

Rachel. Thank you for this. I just found out my cousin lost her husband over the weekend. Took his own life. They have two little daughters. It sometimes seems there is no way to make sense of death, that it is a senseless event. I appreciate your thoughtful, gentle words.

My love to Spencer and his family as they mourn the death of a beloved mother and sister and remember and rejoice in her good life.

Tod Robbins said...

God bless you all. A shame that I never had the opportunity to know her.

Alyssa Pinsent said...

I am so thankful for our knowledge of our loving Heavenly Father's plan. So sorry for the loss of such an amazing woman in your lives.


singer said...

Hugs being sent to you and Spencer. I love what you have written. Beautiful! May you be richly blessed in this time of mourning; and come out on the other side stronger and more joyful. We love you!- Shaura

Lia said...

I'm sorry for you all, but also glad that you were all able to be together to say goodbye for now.

The Artist's Life Experiment said...

My dear father just died from cancer in August. Thank you for writing about your experience, It's a comfort to finally feel like someone else understands.

jendar said...


this is such a beautiful post. It makes me appreciate my love ones and to know that they are all still here with me. I know your mother in law is in a better place, but it is still painful to know that you will al be separated from her for a while. I have never had a close family member pass, so I don't even know how it feels and I don't even want to know. but rest assure that your thoughts are with your, spencer, and his family. sending you my love. xo

Veronica said...

Beautiful post. Thinking of you.

Ashley A. said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and for Spencer's loss. This is a beautiful post. Love you!

Hillary said...

This is beautiful and comforting. Thank you for writing it. I love the insight that perhaps in heaven they use the opposite words for birth and death.