Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why Can't We Admit it? All Life is Sacred

“...I've redeemed you, I've called your name.
Isaiah 43:1b

I'm sure that there are those who read my blog who are convinced that I am consumed with constant thoughts of death. I want to assure you that isn't exactly true. The reason that I often speak of death is that there are many in our world who face it on a daily basis, like I do. While I am not a funeral director, I am a florist and I speak to people nearly every day who are facing death at some level. They come to a florist to help them soften the blow for others or they come to a florist to establish a tribute that will speak of the person that they have been so close to who is now gone from their presence.

Let's face it, we are surrounded by death, if not by the death of people, then the death of animals and nature. If I may be so graphic, many are more devastated by road kill they they are the passing of Aunt Gertie, (I don't understand that, but then I'm going to trudge on, maybe some day I will and yet at some levels I do.) We are surrounded by nature where death is as much a part of every day life as it is for the deaths of people. I remember a teacher friend of mine had a book that she treasured and spoke of often. I don't know the author's name, but the title of the book was, “The Geranium on the Windowsill Died, but You Kept on Talking.” Think of student and teacher relationships and I think you can probably come up with the gist of this children's book.

We turn on the television each day, or maybe we hear it on our commute when we are listening to NPR, we hear about the genocide in Africa, we hear of fires, natural disasters, disease in pandemic forms, we hear the stories of those lost in the woods trying to make their way out who don't. We hear of murders in our own city which is nothing more than genocide, but we call it violence because it's close to home. We are all surrounded by the events of death, be it in the media or be it in our personal lives, be those deaths of those near to us or distanced by some way.

In a cemetery in Indianapolis this summer there was an unveiling of a monument in the children's garden. The event was covered by the Indianapolis Star and when I saw the monument and it's wording I was nearly sick to my stomach, at times it still causes me to wish that Tums would settle the gut feeling that I have, but take note, it doesn't. The words, now carved in stone read, “All life is sacred, especially the life of a child.” Now, to be frank, I know that I am going to catch it from a few people who want me to stop here, but I feel the need to journey on and complete my thinking. I cannot and will not devalue the death of a child. Without a doubt it has to be one of the most tragic events that a family must ever face. I know that it is a grief that is nearly impossible for a mother and father to ever find much healing for. In no way whatsoever do I want anyone to think that I discount this kind of death. I do want to say that I think that the wording on this monument is a travesty and is a pollutant to our very thinking. The monument should have been placed at the gate to the cemetery and should have simply read, “All Life is Sacred.” That would have been more than enough.

As a florist the obituary page of the local paper is what we call the Florist's Sports Page. I don't make it a habit of reading it first, I work my way back through the pages of the paper and read it when I get there. In the January 26th edition of the Indianapolis Star there was an obituary for a five year old child who died, I happen to know that the child had several birth defects and that his family was blessed to have him in their home and their life for as long as they did. I know that they were valiant and dutiful and loving in the care of this child, I admire them in their stalwart care of this little one, no doubt they did so with a tremendous amount of fear in their hearts that each day could be their last with him in their arms.. The child died while taking a nap. (Frankly, that's how I want to go after having a nice macaroni and cheese and meatloaf dinner. Vegetable of the day is fine in this case.)

An eleven year old was shown the obituary, he lost a little sister at her birth and he understands the value and fragility of life, even at his young age. He commented that it was especially sad that the five year old died. I could feel my blood pressure rise, I wanted to jump on my soapbox and start preaching. ALL LIFE IS SACRED! Now, if we want to speak of sadness in attachment to these deaths listed in the paper, let's look at all of them. It's sad when a 71 year old dies, a 30 year old, a 5 year old, a 106 year old, each of these people who were listed in the paper had people listed as survivors who will mourn them who will grieve them and who knows for how long. It wouldn't be unheard of for the 71 year old to be survived by their mother, in fact, I knew one of those cases that was written up in the paper this week. I know both the deceased and the survivor, I know that Mother is lamenting the death of her child as if the child was the five year old. We feel that we are not supposed to outlive our children.
I did not say it out loud, but I wanted to so very badly, at the end of the obituaries there were a pair of notices that there are currently two bodies that we know of now that have not been collected by their family, if they have family to do so, and there is a very good chance that they don't have anyone left in their kit and kin to claim their bodies and give them proper burial. I wanted to scream until my very throat pained me that these are the sad deaths! There is an excellent chance that these people died alone and for me and my thinking this is the saddest death of all.

One of my dear friends who passed away about 8 years ago held this as his greatest fear and he said so. I sat with his mother while he fought for breath and we were all together when he finally quit breathing. Another of my close friends spoke many times to me that his greatest fear was not to die, he said, “I've had a good run, what's killing me is my own fault and frankly, I understand that completely, still my greatest fear is to die alone.” I was at the transitional care hospital where he was a patient a mere half an hour before he passed. The irony of it all is that he gripped my hand and whispered between his gasps, “get outta here kid.” (He always called me kid.) It hurts me to think of him doing this because when I got home, a twenty five minute drive his niece called me to say that he had died about twenty five minutes earlier. That would be five minutes after I left.

In Isaiah 43: 1 we learn that God made it clear that he had already paid the price for his people and that no matter how hard they might try to escape it, he called them by their very name and they belonged to him. I know this to be true, after all, he made each one of us and he should have the right to claim us. But what's more the passage reminds us that we are not our own and that he calls us by name. If we look at this from the side of death and the end we can see that he made us, he claims us, he calls us by name and therefore he acknowledges that every life is sacred because it belongs to him, we are his extension on earth.
So, for me, every life is sacred, but it's okay to feel the sadness that comes our way when a life is ended. No matter how it is ended, and what's more, maybe we should adopt the notion that we are all someone's child, and we are especially important because we are God's Children. Okay, so the stone at the cemetery is almost okay. It should maybe read, “All life is sacred, especially the lives of us who are all someone's child.” I wouldn't need the Tums for that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Intersting comments Don. I definately see where you are coming from. I must agree with you that all life is sacred. It is a gift from God to be nurtured and enjoyed. However, I have an idea where the writing on the monument in the cemetary was going and failed to arrive at. I must admit, that I know very few children who have died. My sister had a little one who only lived about an hour. I knew a 10 year old who died from leukemia when I was a teen. I also knew a young lady of about 19 who died from cystic fibrosis. I think the tragedy inherent in the death of a young person is the fact that all that possible potential will never be realized - as opposed to someone who lives a long life you see. Hugs not recevied, careers not planned, smiles not exchanged, and so on. The old folks like our grandparents have had an opportunity to realize their potential. That said, there are other tragic deaths too. There are those who die leaving a sense of work undone, such as young parent who leaves behind children. There are the deaths of those whose life has ended as a result of their own actions. We both know people who's lives were taken over by alcohol or drugs. Their lives were less than they should have been and upon their death you could only shake you head and say "What a waste". Then there are those whose passing proclaims that death is only the next journey. For those suffering long dibilitating sickness, old age, or even someone like the 19 year old girl I knew who lived longer than expected and accomplished all she wanted. In those, there is a certain peace.

Just a couple of thoughts for you. For the longest time I never knew what to put on one of those florists cards for someone who passed away. I finally came up with "Til we meet again". For it is by the grace of God through the crucifiction and resurection of his son Jesus that we are promised we will overcome death and live with him in heaven. Stands to reason we will all meet again there.
Also - I personally want to die in my church pew, listening to the music and the words. I find it all very peaceful and uplifting and couldn't imagine anything better. Plus, I bet I really freak out some people. Rita

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