It just isn’t natural for parents to bury their children, the cycle of life dictates the opposite and yet, some parents must face the anguish, this pain that seems to take their very breath away.
Matthew, a handsome young man, left behind two small children, a boy and a girl, loved to make music, was an excellent chef and had an infectious smile. I learned some of that only in the last few days because he was somewhat estranged from my family. I knew he had been on some troubled paths in his short life, but I have a clear memory of the last time I saw him.
It was about 5 years ago that I ran into him at a local grocery store. He surprised me by calling my name and it took a few seconds before I realized who was smiling at me. I hadn’t seen Matthew in over 18 years prior to that. What is more, and what I now see as such a blessing, is that Matthew & I probably talked for 20 or more minutes that day just standing in the aisle at the grocery. He was warm and engaging, happily telling me about going to school to become a chef and about his nephew and how he adored him. I absorbed it all, quietly thankful for such a conversation, so unexpected and so genuine. It was a gift these few minutes.
The service was unique, incorporating words from a pastor as well as live music from a string-band that played old time spirituals such as Amazing Grace and Lay Down and Sleep. We were treated to a special recording of a song that Matthew had been working on before he died. I never knew music was such a big part of his life until today. I think the most poignant moment came toward the end of the service when Michael (Matthew’s twin brother) released a white dove with his son.
As a photographer who looks at life as a documentary much of the time, if I would have captured anything to illustrate the essence of it all, it would have been Michael holding that dove in the middle of the cemetery. The pastor explained to the quiet crowd that the dove was to symbolize Matthew’s spirit being released to God. As Michael lovingly held that bird, he moved it near his son so that he might give it a kiss on the head...and then he paused and sunk to his knees. I wondered if he could let go...
But then a beautiful thing happened and it’s partly why I am committing this to script. I don’t want to forget watching that dove fly away. It was so cold today, with temperatures in the low 30’s, yet thankfully, the winter sun lent a small warmth to a patchy blue sky. I watched the dove soar into the air, making an arc to the right and then circle left as if to allow all the guests view. There was a striking moment when the dove was in front of the sun and clouds and as I watched, two rainbows were evident on either side of the bird. It was that sliver of colors that you often see through the transparency of clouds. They held my gaze for a time and then, turning to see the dove fly east and out of sight I noticed the crowd dispersing and moving toward their cars. I searched for my sister and stole a quick glance at the sky with the patch of colors; now there was only one rainbow to discern.
For anyone reading thus far, thank you. I ask your prayers for my dear Aunt Judy, Matthew’s mother. It breaks my heart to see her so distraught. Hugging her today, I had no words...and she could only groan in anguish. Thankfully, her eldest son seemed to be her greatest strength today, he held her up, physically and emotionally, to greet the vast number of guests. If anything I would like to share with my readers tonight it is this:
Death is the great equalizer, it comes to us all.
If we lived in such a way as to have sight of this every single day, how may it affect our choices..? When death comes, all our petty arguments and grudges pale. Be reconciled to one another. Don’t make your parting words with a loved one those of anger or accusation. Do your part in making things right in a broken relationship. Forgive, ...even when they don’t ask. Be patient with those you love, ...be quiet and listen. Seek to comfort above being comforted.
And, one more thing that was driven home to me today. We mean so well when we say it, but I am making a conscious effort to stop saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” during times of heartache. Never has anyone taken me up on that. I think it’s far better to figure out something you can do to share peace, friendship and the love of God and then, DO IT.
Thank you for your prayers; blessings to all of you.
* Photo is from Decorative Wall Crosses