Marvin Repinski: Death: Facing a part of life

Published 6:13 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

“Each of us has a different way of expressing our thoughts and feelings with our children — different words and actions that seem to suit best.  There are times too, when we all feel inadequate.  There are no easy answers, especially when it comes to death talk.”  (Hedda Sharapan — from a booklet, “Talking with Young Children about Death.” — (shared by Fred Rogers.)

My challenge in this writing is to give expression to several themes in the area of death. I, like every human being, will die. Many of us, expressed in many ways in various religions, believe that there is more! The death of our physical bodies is not the conclusion of our journey on earth. In some manner, the journey continues. We live in hope!

One: The story — an example — in the ministry of Jesus may be adapted to our own experience. In short, the Bible passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, tells of a scene in Bethany where the man, Lazarus, had died.  Approaching this friend, for Jesus knew the pain and sorrow; he joined others who gathered in mourning. The shortest verse in the Bible, two words, “Jesus Wept.” It is, to me, a reflection of what we welcome and pray for; that there will be others who will sit with us and shed tears with us, while we receive comfort.

Two: There are various ways of viewing our own stories from birth until, as one poet worded it, the bell “tolls for thee.”

I am encouraged with the statement in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:11, that reads: “We want each one of you to show diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end.” The desire of the writer is for each of us, no matter the challenge, to keep faith to do what we do with diligence.

A poet, Suellen Mary Lamb, has written, “Life Gets in the Way.”  It opens the gate to a connection with so many of us; our mortal days that capture both our loves and heart aches.  “I travel on a path, that seems to be correct. But life gets in the way and alters it a bit. Confusion, in my thinking and uneasiness, is felt. A hill becomes a mountain, and nothing seems to fit.”

The course our path takes is to use the tools at hand, to freshen our minds — maybe turning off the TV and reading a great book!

Three: Resolutions while aging and approaching death keeps a heart young. A painter born in Spain in 1746, Francisco Goya, was viewed as having a colorful temperament. Maybe that stands out, as I see it in his paintings, as I am making a study. His friends and those purchasing his paintings and tapestries, experienced this artist’s work. Do they reflect his proud, lusty, touchy, volatile, intense manners?

Goya died in Madrid in 1828. His final years were times of hearing loss and with spectacles giving aid to his failing sight, yet his painting continued. Do we ever give up? He wrote, “I have become old with many wrinkles so that you would not recognize me except for my snub nose and deep-set eyes.” Even with the decline of age, he painted masterpieces!

Four: Death does not have to be the final word. What we produce, create, invent, and “leave behind” is embraced by loving friends. What helped others to prosper is — face it — our legacy. Thoughtfully we can believe that the good we do will outlast us in the lives of others.

Liv Larson Andrews, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington, writes in the June 15, 2022 issue of the “Christian Century” magazine. I use her experience as a kind of parable. A certain object becomes, in time, used in the service of others. Andrews writes, “When no barbers were open for business in the summer of 2020, I cut my son’s curly hair on the steps of our front porch. The curls bounced and blew away to tangle with bushes or hide in the crevices of tree roots. Then in spring we saw them again, reinterpreted: The birds who made their nests in the trees of our yard had found my son’s locks and used them to cushion their twiggy abodes.”

I am touched by this story. To think, a child’s curls in a bird’s nest! What we have shaped and contributed in this life continues to serve purposes beyond us.

Five: A visit to a church, a grave site, a place where wedding rings were exchanged, a hospice where closing words were exchanged, may keep engaging memories alive.

To cherish the one who has died takes on a new face. I looked again at a picture of my mother, Mildred. It was my last visit to the Portage County Nursing Home. She squeezed my hand, she mouthed — in near silence my prayer, she only could say: “Stay, stay, stay.” I left that day only to return for her funeral.

Is there grief that is relieved from those days, some years ago? Is there a sense of loss yet today? Yes and no. My mother “finished the course.” She had lived a life like most of us, with troubles — some inside her heart, some external. But her faith and support of five sons and loving church family were there for her. My deep wish is that in assessing your life, the reality is that someday you will be a part of a heavenly choir. Be at peace. Live now in a kind fullness!