The grocery store makes me cry. For some reason, the simple routine of pushing a cart through the store to acquire the necessities of life breaks me open. Perhaps it is the fact that this very normal act says: life goes on, we cook, we eat, we go about the business of living…. even though nothing is the same. My brother has died. My parents have died. I am still alive. This is what living people do. They go to the grocery store.
Suffering and death are inevitable parts of the human experience. Yet, we live as if we are impenetrable to such pain. When suffering and death decide to show up in our lives, we are completely blindsided.
It feels like being hit by a Truth bus. Full-on body slam: You’re vulnerable. Life is fragile. Don’t get too comfortable. Here’s a big side of pain and grief to go with your happy little life.
I wonder how would we live differently if we remembered our own human mortality on a daily basis.
Two years later, I’m still learning lessons from the death of my parents. I think of them every single day. I sometimes catch glimpses of them in those rare, perfect moments when the thin places can be crossed.
My brother’s death is raw and fresh and still feels unreal to me. Yes, he was very sick. But we didn’t expect him to die. Not now. Not for a long time. But he did. And I watched it happen. It was both a beautiful privilege and a brutal reminder that life is so very fragile and so very temporary.
The loss feels staggering. My brother’s two kids have lost a wonderful dad. His beautiful wife Mary is a widow at 46. Of all the people in this world who do not deserve pain, it is Mary. Mary is amazing, kind, and good. I cannot use the term sister-in-law for Mary. She is my sister. We are connected by her marriage to my brother, but no two women who walk the path we just walked together can be anything but sisters. I love her with my whole being. Together, we held each other up as we watched my brother leave this world. There was not a damn thing we or the doctors could do to stop it from happening.
Sometimes, I rage at the universe. My Education for Ministry class would use the term “theological reflection” for the questions I hurl at the Powers-that-Be: “What the actual Fuck?! Why Rob? Why so young? He was such an awesome person! I would be happy to suggest a few names of not-so-awesome people that the world may not miss too much! Seriously?! Can you please stop taking the people I love away from me?!”
Sometimes, I just quietly weep. I know God did not take my brother. Sickness took him. Our human bodies are mortal. We are not created to last forever. We will all eventually die. Just as Jesus confirmed when he wept for Lazarus, death is sad. It hurts those left behind. So we weep. And we find comfort in a God who loves us and who welcomes us home. We lean heavily on friends who support us. And we go on…into this beautiful, mysterious, awesome world in which we live and move and have our being.
The freshly hollowed-out places in my heart will change me. How could I possibly stay the same? In honor of my brother and my mom and my dad, I will endeavor to fill those deep holes with more goodness, joy, generosity, and as much love for the world as I can fit into one woman’s broken heart. I must do that now. I cannot wait. We just don’t have that kind of time.
And if you happen to see me crying in the produce section of the grocery store, don’t be alarmed. I’m just paying attention to the high prices we must pay for deeply loving other human beings.