November is a traditional time for remembering those who have died. Churches remember. Countries remember. As if on cue, entire northern climates cycle from life to death or dormancy.
On my walks I often see an older couple. They tend a grave with great care. Every day of the year, in snow or rain, hot or cold, they go to the grave. There is a bench, a bird feeder, and little lamps always burning. In winter, they keep a path shovelled to the grave. All kinds of animals come year round. Despite the location, it is a very lively place. At first I tried to figure what to make of it. Then I decided it wasn’t mine to worry about one way of the other. They’re just a part of the landscape now. I wave. They wave back. I keep the dog away from their spot.
Two years ago my brother was visiting with his kids. Something got it into our heads to visit my mother’s grave. We took the kids, all eight of them, with toothbrushes, a bucket and some soap, to tidy up the grave stone. It wasn’t morbid, it was pleasant. She would have loved them chattering and curious.
My mother was the first person I loved who died. The first person I knew was the piano player from our church. Her name was Lois Olsen and we kept her dog while she was sick. She was as old as the hills. I was curious about the funeral, but hanging around a church with a dead body inside was too scary for me. My brother and I stayed at home. Watched from the upstairs window as the hearse drove up and her casket was taken into the church. Staring at a box that had the actual body of someone I had seen play a piano was somber and sad and fascinating.
When my mother died, I had the hardest time getting rid of her shoes. They were the wrong size for me, but all I could think was: when you’re dead, your family doesn’t want your shoes. It was a few years before I could bring myself to part with them.
I miss my mother. I grieve her loss. But much harder for me is to love her, not as a memory of how I did love her, but as a verb, now, in the present tense. To love her now is to say that just beyond my reach, she is still as real as I am. That, while neither of us can bridge the gulf between us, love can. In fact, it already has.
We love now as best we can across the chasm. Mothers. Friends. Babies not yet born. With tiny faith, our love claims: O death, where is thy sting?
And then someday –