~ best buds ~
When I was six, my Granddaddy passed away from pancreatic cancer. It was November in Appalachia West Virginia and that meant cold, wet, raw, rainy as well as clear, crisp, brittle. For the funeral, it was clear, crisp, brittle and I remember wandering around that big ole farmhouse, watching the grown-ups talk in quiet whispers, wipe tears with cotton handkerchiefs, drink gallons of coffee , nibble at food set on Grandmother’s hand made by Granddaddy kitchen table. That big farmhouse kitchen was kept warm by Grandmother’s cast iron and white enamel cook stove. In a place of honor, as befitting something that provided nourishment both in warmth and in food, the cook stove sat in the center of one outside wall. I remember Daddy, the baby boy of thirteen children, wandering around that kitchen, untethered, confusion written across his face; sorrow grief mixed mingling until he looked a pale imitation of someone else. Mom, taking him aside in a corner of that big kitchen, but with me standing nearby as little pitchers have big ears, said to him, “Jim, go to the orchard and get it out of your system. You need to cry, go cry.” Immediately, he walked out the back door, headed for the orchard and returned, later, red eyed, nose sniffling, shoulders pinned back, better ready to face the rest.
That weekend is one of my earliest childhood memories that’s absolutely crystal clear, and, over the years, I’ve thought of it often especially when I, or someone else, needed permission. “Permission for what?”, you ask. Permission for any-everything: to be happy, to be sad, to laugh, to cry, to buy chocolate or a new lipstick or shirt, take a vacation. We humans are bound by our own limitations and giving/receiving permission un-tethers us to fly higher, as high as our souls are comfortable yet always going higher the next time as we gain stability in ourselves, our gifts, our blessings, our God.
Years later, after a very long, debilitating illness, my cousin passed away. I called his wife to express my condolences and she said, “Thank you but you know…we’re terminal from the first breath.” That caught me by surprise; the shocking truth of reality. Like most, I’d managed to keep death at bay or, at least, in a tidy little place seldom visited. I’d go to funerals, both family and friends, as I consider it duty, responsibility and my gift to them. So many people don’t go to funerals selfish curs and I know that’s being hard but not as hard as it is for those who have lost a loved one. They are the ones we button up and go to show our support, speak a kind word, offer up a prayer with our arms wrapped around them. Is it difficult? Well, I want to say an expletive and then YES! but so is life difficult, why should death be any different?
It’s a struggle to live in the time between the dash, at least it is for me. You know. The dash between the date of birth and the date of death. There are days of glory, full of hope, expectation, beauty, peace, happiness, joy; then there are the days of other. Those other days have hope, expectation, beauty, peace, happiness, joy but are overshadowed by the knowledge we can, never again, have that first breath, and the last breath waits, patiently we hope.
Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the other. Because Dave has cancer, he and I now belong to a club that has dragged us, totally against our wills, kicking and screaming, into membership. I wouldn’t wish this journey on my worst enemy. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have put both feet in their mouths when they’ve run into me, saw that I saw them and couldn’t turn and run the other direction. Oh, I don’t blame them but it still hurts like slicing the end of a finger hurts while chopping onions. Double hurt, if you understand my meaning. Like I said, it’s difficult but if you want someone to be there for you, it behooves you to be there for them.
Listen up. Cancer is not n.o.t. contagious! None of us knows for whom the bell tolls; none of us know when our last breath will arrive but when a person has such an illness, that last breath is a bit closer, a bit more precious than it was when going blithely along, secure in the knowledge we’d live forever, or knowing, at least, death was a distant, distant event. Recently, someone told me “it’s a roller coaster ride, out of control.” To that I’d add, totally out of control and we don’t even have a darned seat belt!
Lately, I’ve needed permission. A lot of permission! Permission to cry, permission to grieve, to take care of myself, to exercise, to eat, to sleep, even to breath. Perhaps, especially to breath. So, I give myself…and YOU as well…blanket permission: to do whatever it is we need to do but, especially, to remember to allow the heart rhythms to keep time.
In the midst of being overwhelmed, my heartbeat keeps count of time…time lived, time living and time future. My heart reminds me life is about living and death is a part of living but, most importantly, it’s about eternity. I’m one heartbeat away from sitting near the throne, joining those who have gone before, such a great cloud of witnesses who loved me enough to tell me about Jesus.
Daddy says, “I’m ready to go but I’m not homesick.”
As am I.
Blessings ~ family ~ faith ~ home ~ Jesus ~ permission ~ a great cloud of witnesses ~
yours in heartbeat time,