Dying is a lot of work.
I know this to be true.
I know because my wife died on December 31st. She took her own life when she lost hope. She did not die happy, although I know that she is happy now. I know this because she knew a risen Lord who promised her peace, and He always keeps His promises.
When someone dies they leave behind a lot of stuff. Some things that others will find useful and some no one will know what to do with. All of them held some significance to a life now absent here, and it is up to those of us who remain to sift through them all to understand their value.
A prominent aspect of going through all this is dealing with all the accumulated dust that coats anything left untouched for a significant period.
Dust has a purpose. It marks the passage of time, and movement, or lack of it, regarding the things we hold on to. I wonder sometimes if in some way it even has preservative qualities since there’s often so much of it.
There are things on shelves up too high to be easily seen or reached, and therefore summarily forgotten. There are things in the dark corners of the closets similarly removed from our normal range of senses. There are some things you can’t believe you’ve forgotten, and some things you wish you didn’t have to recall.
And then there are the ashes.
The last vestiges of the physical form.
We spread the ashes at an island where she last seemed truly happy. The waters took her on the tides, and she was really gone. Human ashes are different from what I expected. They are white and granular and they don’t really dissolve as I expected them to. They formed a cloud in the water when I poured them, almost as if she was hesitant to leave. I think it was in that moment that I discovered that I loved her more than I thought.
The last few years of our life together were marked by a steady decline in her mental and emotional state that led to a lot of acrimony. Her life was difficult at best. She suffered from many ailments both real and imagined. At the end nothing I did to help was helping her, and she would do nothing to help herself. Her doctor’s ran every test they could and came up empty.
To be completely honest it was often difficult to say we liked each other, but we both understood the meaning of 1Corinthians 13 when, in describing the qualities of love, Paul says that, “Love endures,...Love never fails”. We always loved each other.
Real love defies the logic of this world. Real love has never been about meeting my own needs. It could never survive any conflict if it was. Real Love, as God created it, is meant to allow marriage to last through the worst of times even if it hurts me. Love is capable of living through pain. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand for a reason. It is very difficult to maintain one without the other.
The bottom line for me was always this: I made a promise, and I put God’s name on that promise. He keeps His promises, and He wanted me to keep mine. So I did. It wasn’t easy.
On December 31st I was married, and on January 1st I was… not.
That’s a pretty short sentence, but there’s a lot to process in spite of that. There are 30 years of habits and expectations to change. Thirty years of thought and emotion that I now have to merge into someone new. Thirty years of stuff to work through to figure out exactly what kind of man I am, because in the end I’m really not too sure right now. I have to learn how to relate to people differently, because my responsibilities have changed so drastically. There are times in almost every day where I find myself understanding how different things really are now. All the decisions I make are now my own. There is no one to share responsibility or enthusiasm with.
I am one.
A friend described my life at this point as a race. This part of my life is at an end, and I have finished this race, but I didn’t get the prize. The prize would have been to see my wife happy and whole. I know she has both of those things now; I just didn’t get to see it.
It is the nature of races that when you cross the finish line at the end of one race there is another waiting to be run, but you don’t run a race that you haven’t trained for.
I believe that God created me to be Sue’s husband. I believe that He made me to be uniquely suited to that role. Now that role no longer exists, and I have to discover what He has in store for me with the qualities He has instilled in me. I do truly believe that whatever He has placed within me has made me a better man than I was, but I have to figure out what to do with that, and when to do it.
So I guess I’m back in training for the next race, just not quite ready to go yet.
©Dan Bode 2012