By: Autumn Elizabeth
Sometimes all of us have to say goodbye to people and things we aren’t ready to lose yet. If you sit in an airport long enough, you will certainly see at least one tear-filled farewell, at least one hug that looks like a desperate attempt to cling to a love one who will soon be somewhere else. Sometimes people lose jobs they loved, homes they loved, sometimes even a broken cup can be a goodbye we have to say too soon.
Of course the ultimate unwanted goodbye is often death. Although this is one that I have trouble understanding. Sure, I get that death is loss, but mostly it is a loss for those of us who remain. Although I don’t know exactly what death holds, as someone who believes in the ultimate love of the divine, I see death as a step to gain something rather than a loss. Perhaps this is why I am utterly shaken by my grandmother’s last days.
At 96, my grandmother has been a pillar of faith since I was born. She is deeply and beautifully Catholic and her relationship with her faith is part of what draws me back to the Catholic Church every now and then. Yet, even at 96, even as a person who truly believes in heaven, my grandmother struggles with her impending death. More than struggles in fact, she refuses her impending death. A she sits in the hospital, all my attempts to say goodbye to a woman who has loved me, taught me and shaped me in more ways than she knows are totally unwelcome.
So this is my unwelcome goodbye. I am forced to face the fact that no one’s faith is perfect, that everyone questions the big picture sometimes, even 96-year-old french Catholics. So I say goodbye to my picture perfect ideal of my grandmother’s faith, and instead accept that when it comes to faith, we can all learn from each other. Perhaps it is now my turn to teach my grandmother something about faith.
For you see I truly believe that death is part of life, and I hope that when death finally comes, I can greet it like an old friend. Having been forced to face my own mortality at the ripe old age of 14 when a medical injection stopped my heart, I have developed an understanding of death one might expect from a person with a few more years on them. I don’t pretend to know what heaven is, or what death will be like, but I do know that because of God’s love, death is nothing to fear. My faith and my experiences have helped me see death as one of the many beautiful mysteries of faith.
I do not wish to say goodbye to my grandmother just yet, and I wish we still had many years of church services to attend together. We do not and I have to learn to accept that. But I do have hope that in the few days we have left together I can give her a bit of my hard-won wisdom on death, if only through my willingness to give her unwanted goodbyes.