Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Happened and What I Said About It

What happened
I agreed to officiate an out-of-town wedding for the daughter of congregants and her husband-to-be who was then deployed overseas.  The date got moved from summer to February.  His return to the United States got pushed back and pushed back.  Finally home, we ended up doing the counseling bit via Skype.  The fairly predictable snow storm arrived in due course and so parents and I left a day early so as not to be stuck this side of the mountains.  Upon arrival at our hotel, forgetting that Virginia Beach is in the heart of the military-industrial complex, I was momentarily startled to see three men in military garb on balconies across the way apparently getting a bead on me (turned out they were wax figures at a local souvenir shop).  Family and friends gathered from near and far . . . stories were told . . . laughter and tears were had . . . the sun shone on the appointed day . . . nobody lost the marriage license or the rings . . . mama of the bride navigated the sand just fine with her newly accompanying cane . . . bride and groom shone like stars, as they do . . . the deed was done and all was well.

What I said
I did a wedding this weekend.

What happened
Maxine got very sick and spent many months battling leukemia, losing her struggle by inches with family and friends holding her up, she who held them up for so long, throughout.  In the last weeks, I spent more and more time at the house as those closer and closer struggled to learn the language of the dying, trying to be present when needed and to step aside when not.  We, all of us, held hands, laughed, cried, talked, whispered, ministered to, sang, and fell into silence.  And we prayed.  And she died.  And tomorrow we will observe the rituals of farewell and witness the resurrection and lay her to rest and eat a life-affirming meal together.  It will be a hard day, a necessary day, the day we bury Maxine.

What I said
Maxine died.

What happened
Maxine was dying.

What I said
I’m sorry I missed Leah’s birthday party.  Did you save me any cake?

There are so many deaths in a lifetime, so many endings . . . and but for this time in Maxine’s journey, I would not think of a wedding as a death, an ending . . . yet it is . . . an ending to one way of being even as another, more desired, way begins.  Harder to see, so it is with death . . . an ending that is yet another beginning . . . one not desired, for we were made to rejoice in this life, to cling to it, to hold fast beyond all sense or reason sometimes . . .

In a span of days, one woman stood witness to the joining of Rachel and Vince into a lifetime of shared joys and sorrows, challenges and victories . . . to treasured Leah celebrating her one-year anniversary on this earth . . . and to Maxine’s dying surrounded by all who would keep her if they but could . . . letting her go in one final act of loving kindness . . .

What happened was life.  What I said about it was life too, for so much living is captured in so few words . . . they were married . . . she died . . . happy birthday . . . 


  1. And all God's Children joined together and said AMEN !
    Thanks for sharing.