Diane's Voice

Against The Dying of the Light

This wedding photo has been in my living room for almost 30 years. Do you see the beautiful young bridesmaid on the right, throwing rose petals?

Her name is Rose Mary. She died two weeks ago.

I didn’t know she was dying until a week before she passed. Another dear friend called, telling me Rose had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in January. It had spread everywhere. She was now in hospice. Hospice, I thought. Six months or less. I asked my friend to find out when might be a good time to visit. I promised to check in with her in a week to see what she’d found out.

Before I could text to follow up, I read about my friend’s death on Facebook. She is the third person close to me whose death I found out about on Facebook. Everyone else was significantly older than me. Not that it mattered. Not that I was any less sad when they passed. But Rose was a month and a half older than me.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

We met in Junior High. We went to different high schools, different colleges, and even when we ended up at the same grad school–her for business, me for education–our paths rarely crossed unless we planned to meet. But when got together: magic. Whether it was a week, a month, a year, or more, when I sat down at table with Rose it was as if we’d never been apart. Connection was instant. Communication flowed. That’s how it is with old friends, right?

I remember once hearing about a thesis a graduate student wrote entitled, Why is My Old Friend Not Old? My old friend was not old. But she is gone. That smile is gone. That joy is gone. That light is gone.

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And I rage. Oh how I rage. People say “depression is anger without the enthusiasm.” If so, then I am no longer depressed. Oh, I am so angry.

The first thing I said when I found out she died was, “I thought we had more time. We should have had more time. She should have had more time.”

I hadn’t seen her since well before the pandemic. We kept in touch mostly on social media, but she could see that I was busy and crazy and happy with my husband and girls and volunteering. I could see she was busy and happy and full of life with her nieces and her work and I also started to see she had a very handsome, new (to me) man in her life.

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I would have seen her much more if I hadn’t been homebound for close on three years. I would have seen her much more if I hadn’t let child-rearing take over my mind and my life. I would have seen her much more if I had prioritized differently.

And had I known what little time we would have, would I have prioritized differently? Maybe. Maybe not. All of my decisions during the pandemic were intentional, to protect myself and my older family members. All of my decisions before the pandemic were made with a thought that there would be time. All of my decisions while raising teenagers (before, during, and–is it after?–the pandemic) were often done without thought or planning, just trying to keep my head above water.

I look back and realize I’ve spent years in survival mode. That will make a person angry. But what will make a person furious is to emerge from survival mode to find out people we love have not survived. That will take a person to a very dark place.

Dylan Thomas wrote,

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Photo by Cu00e9sar Fonseca on Pexels.com

Whether or not I am in “old age” or entering into my “close of day,” I rage, rage against the dying of my friend’s light.

And that’s okay. Anger is a part of grief. I learned that a long time ago, but it was definitely something that jumped out at me in my presentation on Suffering and Healing in my class last week.

Is it a coincidence that I started to develop a unit on Suffering and Healing the week I found out my friend was in hospice? Is it a coincidence that I actually had to introduce that unit the day after I found out she died? With this class, it seems there are no coincidences.

My students got to see me in grief. They got to see me in anger. They got to see me processing the death of one of my best friends, right in front of them, whether they knew it or not. I told them she was in hospice. I did not tell them she’d died. But we talked about the causes of suffering–nature, human choice, and a combination of the two. My friend’s death was pure nature. Our bodies are made to die. Sometimes too soon. Sometimes, far too soon.

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“So what do we do?” I asked my students. No answer. I didn’t expect one. I was living my answer at the time–rage!–but that’s not the direction the course book was taking me. So I took a deep breath and said, “Whenever we don’t know what to do, Christians turn to Jesus as our model. So, what did Jesus do when his friend Lazarus died?

“He raised him,” one student answered.

“Yes, that’s true.” I said. “But what did He do before that?”

“He cried,” a student replied.

“Yes. The line is ‘Jesus wept.’ When faced with the death of a dear friend, God wept. Even though He knew he would raise Lazarus, He wept.”

As I was speaking I realized: He wept, but He did not rage. Why one and not the other?

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Then, it struck me: because He knew the light did not die. It could not die. He would not let it die. He would die, so the light would not.

While anger is a stage of grief, and it is okay, the road we are on is not to sadness, or anger, but to acceptance. Christians are told that Jesus is a model of pure acceptance and perfect suffering, and we are called to imitate Him–to learn how to perfectly suffer, perfectly accept the inevitable. After all, I will have to accept other deaths, even if only my own.

God understands that, too, because He died. Many say He was 33 and if that’s true, He, also, died too soon. He too, suffered. Yet He accepted all with grace and yes, some fear and yes, some reluctance–but no anger. And in His perfect acceptance, we are told, He won heaven for all of us.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

And though it is so hard right now, at the heart of my grief, I must hold to my hope that one day I am going to show up where my friend is now. Maybe she will shower me with rose petals, as she did on my wedding day. Or maybe I will shower her with them. Maybe it will just be a rose-petal tossing fest! Maybe I’ll have to wait in line to even say hi, because a lot of people loved her.

But she’ll have time for everyone. We’ll all have time. And I will see that bright smile and get that heartfelt hug. And we will sit down, and connect, and communicate as if we had never been apart–because we’ll realize we really never have been.

I understand that not everyone chooses to believe this. I understand some see this way of thinking as blindness, panacea, idiocy. I know some will say it’s easy for me to say this, when I will not have to live day in and day out without the person I love.

But one day, I will. Or my husband will. I know this. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. But I will try to accept it, to hold to my faith that we will all be together again, and that when we are, we will not rage against the dying of the light. Because we will know, for certain, the light did not die. And we will be basking in it.

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