Friday, December 24, 2010

Two days ago, I attended my friend Cynthia's graveside service. It was lovely, a quiet remembrance and committal before the standing-room-only memorial in the afternoon where her husband and father spoke movingly, her two children sang and talked about their parents' devoted marriage, and everyone left amazed at the poise and love Cynthia's children demonstrated in the midst of such profound grief.

These services are for the living, of course. It's what people call "closure," and we do receive  some of that from these memorials and tributes.

But I'm a person who's a little on the fence about "closure." Sometimes I think we're a bit too quick to close the gate on the garden of mysteries that God has presented.

Personally, I like the gate to remain open so I can continue to ponder.

God is sovereign. God is loving. And I will probably never understand why he would choose to take such a faithful servant as my friend, or why it was necessary that she suffer before leaving. Some people are uncomfortable with these questions. But I think God's okay with ponderings such as this. Cynthia's father said it best, with tears welling in his blue eyes. "I wanted him to heal her. He didn't. But God is still on the throne."

Another mystery for me is how in life Cynthia lived in another city, but in death she became my neighbor.

I've written before about my daily runs through a nearby cemetery. Two days ago you could have knocked me over with an angel's wing as I stood on that same soft grass and watched Cynthia's casket lowering into the earth. She rests near that boy named Jacob.

Her committal gave me some "closure." But the next day I wanted to visit her in solitude.

So I ran to the cemetery.

The soil on her grave was still freshly turned and covered with strips of sod. The rough edges waited to form a complete carpet of green and her photo was placed where her headstone will eventually stand. As I gazed at her face, murmuring her name, I thought my feelings would tend toward sadness.

But I remembered something a monk told me.

Several years ago, as a young reporter, I drove to Trappist monastery in Berryville, Virginia to write a feature story. The Abbott gave me a tour of the buildings and grounds. As we walked the rolling acres, monks gathered in the stone chapel for their holy chants and the sound of their singing seemed to fill the summer trees. I gazed down to our right, and saw a row of white crosses. They followed a path that crested over a hill.

I pointed to the crosses. "What are those?"

The abbot smiled down at the grave markers.

"Those are graduates," he said.


  1. Dear Sibella,

    Thank you for once again sharing so eloquently your heart. I know what you mean about it being a process of letting go - and I'm not even family. I find myself continually coming out of a fog to find that she really is gone. I loved that the sun was peeking through as she was set to rest. She will not be forgotten, and my prayers will continue for her family - and I will cling to the hope that one day we will all be graduated together. Blessings on you, dear Sibella.

    - Debbie

  2. Debbie, that's a great way to say it. Coming out a fog to find that she really is gone. I didn't notice the sun peeking through. But it was sure nice to see your sweet children there.

  3. "...all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another." - John Donne, 1623 (Meditation XVII)

    Mourning your loss now, but looking forward to one great read someday. - bcj

  4. Bruce,
    What a powerful Donne meditation. Thank you so much for sharing it. I'll be reading it again, and searching out I-XVI.


  5. Meditation XVII presents such a beautiful balance between rejoicing for the 'graduates' and grieving our own loss--both of which are healthy and necessary.

    I didn't know Cynthia, but I suspect Heaven is now one beautifully illustrated page richer for our loss.