JOY AND THE MOURNING
Mourning and funerals for the aged, whose lives were well-lived, bear more heavily upon the shoulders of young people, than it does the older among us. The weight of this sorrow makes the young who attend such a funeral look older, and the old look younger. I went to the funeral, yesterday, of an elderly and dear friend who was, for a great deal of my childhood, a second mother to me; the mother of my best friend forever, with whom I played and grew for most of my youth; a saintly woman, humble yet stubbornly convinced that the things she had, as she lived a life of material poverty, were riches to be envied. She would have been terribly offended to be reminded that she had so little. She lived in a natural cul-de-sac at the mouth of a canyon, and nature was as much a resource to her and her family, as was commerce in the town. Everything she possessed she worked for or made with the toil of her hands. But her life was rich beyond measure because she never wanted for any thing. Her treasures were always the treasures to be found in Heaven.
My old friend, Genevieve, who struggled through a life of work and pain–suffering with Trigeminal Neuralgia for decades–wrote the following which was published in her funeral program.
“I love to watch the sun set from the hills to the West, after the sun has fallen off the cliff and rolled down the other side leaving a splash of color in its wake. In the East its departure has left the red cliffs at the mountain’s foot ablaze, and the mountains themselves, with their snowy peaks, seem to be blushing, as if from the sun’s departing compliment. Yes, I love this beautiful world.”
When we arrived at the service, I sat down next to my youngest son and a diminutive white-haired lady is a mint-green pantsuit sat in the pew directly in front of me. She turned to the fellow next to her and, without hesitation, began conversing with him about Herman Cain. I grinned to myself and looked sideways at my son. He rolled his eyes as I reached into my purse to pull out a ReaganGirl business card to hand to the woman. I touched her shoulder lightly and whispered, “I see that you’re interested in what is happening in the world. You might like my website.” She responded enthusiastically, adjusted herself so that she could drape one elbow over the back of the seat and proceeded to tell me why she was so interested in politics.
Ruth Waters, I learned, will be 90 years old in a few weeks. She joined the Navy and served through WWII and the Korean War. She defied the wishes of her children and drove, by herself, from Arizona to Utah and settled in Moab. Genevieve was a mutual friend. Ruth Waters was energetic, lucid, spunky, and she liked to talk. She told me, “And you know, I have been accused at times for having enjoyed the wars.” I listened carefully and her eyes gleamed with fervor. “I didn’t really enjoy the wars, but I enjoyed my life during the wars. I love life!” Ruth Waters, on the cusp of 90 years of age, loves life! She is life. I told her to contact me and we would go for out lunch the next time she came to my town to visit the V.A. Medical Center. I then gave her a nod and wink which indicated that is was time to be reverent, though I really wanted to continue our conversation, which only added to the sweet spirit which already filled the chapel.
Ruth and Genevieve are examples of why funerals for the elderly have a way of aging young people and revitalizing the old. As those of us with a quiver full of years have moved apace through mortality we come to understand that the very course which we tread is not a solid, nor a permanent one. As the assumptions we had about life when we were young dissolve into heartbreak and ironic loops of error and correction, ignorance and wisdom, the edges of sorrow and disappointment become rounded. The path becomes a river which sweeps us inexorably through our mortal years. Its waters, roiling and turgid, drive against the sharp rocks and wear them down. We have learned how to push ourselves off the rocks, point our feet downstream, and enjoy the ride. Ruth and Genevieve became master oarsman on the rivers of their lives.
The funeral of my old friend was not a demarcation of the end of something. Her life, literally, the strands of DNA carried by her fifty or so descendants, the blood in their veins, is a continuation of her life. But the river of consciousness is not dammed by death either. It carries on nimbly through space and time and, as mortal life steps aside, becomes clear, clear to its very depths, crystalline, bright and sweet. There is no end, but rather a triumph of completion, life’s flow becomes a spring, rolling on forever to meet its joy.
Mourning has its part, for what is joy if not the fullness of all things; the bitter and the sweet, pain and convalescence, the boisterous sunrise and the blushing sunset, the burden of youth, and the absolution of the soul that learned how to live.
By Marjorie Haun 11/06/2011