Going First

Because I know that no one is immune to a random thought here and there, I know that you’ll all understand when I say that a recent thought about the death of a loved one made its way to my mind. The thought was of a sibling–one who is still with us. It struck me as I was driving home alone from a friend’s house. The very nature of the thought is one that I do not like to remind myself of, and since it has no real prominence concerning the focal point of this post, I’ll spare you any details. The basic point is this- I was faced with the pseudo-reality of the death of my sibling whom I love. What matters here is what I thought next, not what I felt during.

For the weight of this to have a chance to sink into your minds, I’ll have to back up a bit and grant you some perspective that I unfortunately have. I am very blessed to have all four of my grandparents still alive on this earth. Also, none of my aunts or uncles have passed away. I’ve never had to deal with real loss before in that way. I know that I have been told that several of my great grandparents have died in my lifetime, but I fortunately have forgotten those or was too young to remember them at the time in which they occurred, save one. When I was a junior in high school, I came home one afternoon to learn that my father’s Aunt Mary had suffered a stroke and had died. I loved my Aunt Mary, but had no real relationship with her outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving because she lived somewhat far away. I remember hearing the words and feeling nothing for myself- I felt grief, but this grief was felt for my father, my uncles and my grandparents. To this day, anyone will tell you that Mary truly loved everyone around her. As my father put it, “When you were with Mary, it was never about Mary. She always wanted to know about you.”

At the funeral home in Atlanta, I saw the first person I had ever seen with no physical life in them. I remember walking towards the casket, seeing her body and walking directly outside. Someone had obviously seen me. I was not running to the door, I was not weeping, but I had been noticed. A dear friend of the family, Mickey Park, came walking out that same door. He had served as pastor of my home church for thirty years. It was when he started speaking to me that I began to actually shed tears, I’m too proud of a person to admit to any more than that. I’ll never forget him talking to me the way that he did, telling me, assuring me that dying was just a part of life. While I do appreciate the kind words and his sympathy for me, I don’t think that it was the passing of my aunt that caused my watery eyes, but rather the realization of actual mortality, the fragility of life itself. I assure you, this all has a point.

After I dried my eyes and finished whatever it was that I was doing outside, I entered back into the funeral home. Mickey had gone in long before I had and, I believe, had talked to my grandmother about what happened outside between the two of us. As I entered back into the mothball scented room, my Grandmother Mona approached me. Mary had been her sister all the wonderful many years that Mary had been alive. Mona looked at me and my mother who had been beside me and said, “You know, there’s really no reason to cry, I get to trust that Mary is in heaven where she has always belonged. I’ll get there, too, one day, she just got to go first.” Her face was trying to play it off comically, as if it was just the matter of a simple footrace, and Mary had won. I know that she felt pain from this, but she was right, and she had forever impressed me with her strength throughout the tenacity of the moment. Her barely even shedding a tear in front of me during that moment spoke volumes for the Godliness that she possesses.

When I was faced with the thought of my sibling’s death, I wondered how I would respond. I wondered if I would be able to play it off like that. I certainly hope that I would trust in the same thing that my grandmother had, that my brother or sister was then in heaven. Seeing as how I’ve never found much logic in being angry at God, I doubt that would be my course. I know that I would feel terrible pain and longing to be with them again, but I sincerely doubt that in the face of all that emotional heart-wrenching, I would be able to strongly look at another and say, “He just got to go first.”

I’ve been told that this entire life is but a race and that we are all runners in that race. I’ve even been instructed as to how I’m supposed to run that race, as if to finish first and receive the prize. In such a literal way, finishing the race, has never been more clearly displayed than in that moment. I sincerely hope that my grandmother continues to display how she runs the race, with endurance, as she did for me in that moment. She may not remember it. It may have been a very inconsequential moment for her (I’m speaking of the exchanged words between the two of us, not the death of her beloved sister), but it has impacted forever the way that I shall view the race. I give thanks for the random thought that I suffered recently only because it has birthed this spectacular epiphany, causing me to appreciate both my grandmother’s strength and the illustration of a life well lived, my Aunt Mary.

While it may seem odd to you, and it may make you think me a depressed soul for what I’ve said, I in fact mean it to be inspiring. As a then seventeen-year-old boy, I was thoroughly inspired by the strength and faith that was displayed by my grandmother. After recently losing her sister, she finds an opportunity to strengthen a weak one beside her. The entirety of this post is meant to make you think about that a little. Yes, of course, cherish the moments you have now with those that you love, but when that moment does come, should you have the faith to make this strength a possibility, find that strength. Maybe you won’t have to; maybe you’ll go first.