Saturday, November 21, 2015
When It's Time to Go Home
As genealogy aficionados, there are times when we can border on becoming glib in our assertions. "I seek dead people," proclaims a T shirt worn by a woman at a conference. In fine print below, the parenthetical explanation divulges, "I do genealogy."
While in essence, that is exactly what we spend our time doing—devoting a lot of time in the pursuit of dead people—what we really are seeking are the details on dead people long gone, not recently gone.
Just like Ebenezer Scrooge questioning the upcoming visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past—"Long past?" "No, your past."—I find myself sometimes far removed from our customary reveling in the mantra of "seeking dead people." It is when it touches our past—rather than the distant past of ancestors even our grandparents have not met—that we begin to sense the dread of that thought.
In that unexpected yet you-knew-this-would-happen sort of way, news of a fresh addition to those dead people we always claim to seek ripped through my community of friends. A beloved elderly former missionary took leave of his family for the last time, yesterday, in the dark of the early morning hours. Though he had been through so much in the past year, he had survived so much, leaving a false confidence that perhaps the worst was now behind him.
Perhaps it is merciful when our loved ones slip away so suddenly. A heart attack sometimes sneaks up, giving no warning, and does its work so quickly that those closest are left clueless until it is all over. While that, in retrospect, seems merciful, the speed of the loss is no easier to bear.
In this case, it will be a loss felt around the world. How ironic, when you realize that this unassuming gentleman began the battle for his health on one day when, during last year's holiday season, he made his routine walk out to the mailbox to retrieve the day's delivery of Christmas cards. There were always so many holiday greetings arriving each day from around the world that it was sometimes hard to wrestle them out of the mailbox.
Sure enough, one good tug on the stack of letters in that overstuffed mailbox and the equal and opposite reaction knocked him off his feet and down on the curb. He broke his hip.
Then came surgery. And rehab. And other health revelations. And more surgery. And almost losing him. But miraculously surviving. And the wonderful day when he got to go home—back to where it was comfortable and familiar and relaxing.
We never know when that sometime will be, when we get that final call home. For some, it is in the midst of a crisis. And we lament the great loss. But sometimes, it is when we rest assured that all is well—seems to be all well—and yet isn't. Perhaps those are the times when the loss seems the hardest to bear. But is it really harder? Or is it that way from the perspective of those left behind?
In the many beliefs held by people from around the world—many of them, beliefs shared by the very people this man once knew and lived with—there is the thought that, in opposition to the grief borne by those left behind, there is a time and space of comfort for those we now count among our dead. This becomes the time when we truly do get to go home. Yet, while we cling to such thoughts, we still find it so hard to let go of the one we love.
For now, raw from the feelings of such a loss, it seems impossible to glibly chatter about those tokens of one's genealogical prowess—the "dead people" we are "seeking." Perhaps, as there is a time for every purpose under heaven, there are times to remember those long gone—the ones we've never grown close to, never become attached to, never even met.
Sometimes, though, the season asks us to set that aside and, in its place, remember the ones we have known, in their final time of going home.