For Marguerite, In Honor of a Life Well-Lived
Last weekend, I went to a funeral. The first since my prognosis. I went angry.
Marguerite was a beautiful lady who sat two rows behind me every Sunday at church. After the service, she would smile, say how good it was to see me, and ask how I was feeling. She would ask about my boys if they weren’t there, and if they were, she would remark on how handsome they are. I always knew when their hair was getting too long because she would remind me to send them to Cassie, her daughter and the owner of Bob’s Barber Shop, to get haircuts. They haven’t let us pay for haircuts there since 2016. And, since we get our eggs there too, Marguerite would tell us not to forget to grab a dozen before leaving. It was a tiny conversation, the same every week, but it always left me feeling so well cared for.
She died just days after a tragic accident. And suddenly, all of the planning and thinking about dying that has filled so many of my days started to seem deeply unfair. But not in the usual way. Mostly, the conversation is about how unfair my terminal illness is. About all of the things that I may never get to do or see and the things that I need to do for my kids and family before it’s too late. But on Saturday, I was the one with all of the time in the world.
I get so mad when people who take care of me get hurt or taken away. It’s my opinion that my caretakers (like Marguerite and the oncology nurse I wrote about a few weeks ago whose cancer has progressed at lightning speed) should get a pass from all other harm or sadness. It doesn’t seem like that much to ask.
Then again, me wanting to make the rules IS kind of a big, ridiculous ask. Who do I even think I am?
There are so many beautiful mysteries about life, and even more about what happens after. I decided a long time ago, after a four-year-old student of mine who had never walked, spoken, or eaten real food died, that this world cannot be the end. I think about what comes next all of the time. While it’s entirely conjecture, I know in my heart that it must be better. Leaving this earth suddenly or “too soon” must somehow be a gift, even as it causes such deep grief in the hearts of those we leave behind. As they move on to something greater than we can imagine, let us emulate what we love most about those we miss, becoming their last, best gift to this life.
For those of us whose lives continue on, here is a poem that was read at the service that moved me deeply and spoke to my hopes for my family and friends after my own parting:
When I Must Leave You
by Helen Steiner Rice
When I must leave you for a little while
please do not grieve and shed wild tears and hug your sorrows to you through the years.
But start out bravely with a gallant smile
and for my sake and in my name live on and do all things the same.
Feed not your loneliness on empty days
but fill each waking hour in useful ways.
Reach out your hand and comfort and in cheer
and I in return will comfort you and hold you near.
And never, never be afraid to die
for I am waiting for you in the sky.