Cold driving rain pelted my umbrella as I shrugged my shoulders and held them, hoping to absorb another centimeter of comfort from my wool scarf. Looking around, I saw the grief on the faces of friends gathering to pay final respects to one who has recently passed from this life into the next.
I considered my mortality, keenly aware that my funeral is soon approaching. The beating heart in my chest is something of the drumbeat in my funeral procession; when it stops, I’ll be at my destination.
I inserted myself into the shoes of those in front of me. I thought of how I’d grieve the loss of parents, siblings, or friends. Then I looked at the husband, and I considered how painful it would be to stand in his shoes.
However morbid this exercise might first appear, I think it’s wise to linger awhile and consider our mortality (Eccl. 7:2). Facing death helps us to embrace and live life. Claiming moments like these as a personal memento mori or reminders of death serves us well. The practice injects a dose of reality into our sluggish hearts hypnotized by the cultural catechesis of immortality.
The beating heart in my chest is something of the drumbeat in my funeral procession; when it stops, I’ll be at my destination.
But as our graveside service and my personal reflections concluded, I saw something I’ll not soon forget.
About three hundred yards away, a taxi pulled up, and a man slowly climbed out. He extended his umbrella and began walking, at a snail’s pace, away from the cab. Undeterred by the relentless rain, the older man methodically marched to his destination. Upon his arrival, he stopped, took off his hat, and stood still in front of this familiar place, a headstone. He stood there for about 10–15 minutes. Then he put his hat back on, turned, and slowly trudged back to his taxi.
I remain struck by this scene I had the fortunate opportunity to witness. While mourning with friends, I saw another grieving husband coming to honor his wife. This tiered telescope of love and grief pressed upon me reminding me how deep and precious love is, especially between a husband and wife. He still loved her, and he still feels her absence. His life without her was never the same.
I remember reading Lewis’ A Grief Observed, where he talked about a loved one’s death like an amputation. People who love sincerely don’t just get over it. They are forever changed. Lewis writes:
To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg cut off is quite another. After that operation, either the wounded stump heals, or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off.
To lose a loved one is to lose a piece of ourselves. I suppose this should be expected in marriage when the two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Loving deeply brings immeasurable joy but also an acute void when the cruel sword of death makes its cut.
I share this story hoping that this image would arrest your mind and heart like it has my own. Take this memento mori to help you to live with the end in view. Consider your relationships and how blessed you are to have them. Think of how good it is to love and be loved. Double down on your relationships, especially those closest to you.
Think of this man, rain or shine, he showed up. Excuses may accommodate self-love, but they are little resistance to a genuine love for others. Show up today and love well, rain or shine.
Love while you are still able, for, in due time, you will be at a funeral, either of someone dear to you or our own.