After work today, I found myself in the card aisle at our local grocery store, finding the sympathy section, or what was now called “Care and Concern”, or something to that effect. A childhood friend had texted me earlier today, telling me her chronically ill mother had passed away. Her mother, I knew, had a condition that affected her memories and mind. My friend told me her mother still remembered me at times, however, and had asked about me every so often. How this was possible, I’m not sure. But it really hit home with me that she had somehow preserved a memory of me in her illness. I hope it gave her some comfort.
I scanned the cards at the store, thinking about this and the time I had spent at their house, all the while holding my bag of lasagna noodles and French bread for making dinner tonight. I expected the cards to all be generic, with heartfelt messages like: “I’m sorry for the loss of your loved one” or “Our prayers are with you in this difficult time.” Nothing too personal, you know, nothing that says that awful, ill conceived phrase: “I understand.”
But this wasn’t the case. Some cards, I noticed, were labeled specifically for grandfather or grandmother. Alright, I can see that. Very sad still, but presumably they lived a long life to attain that title. Then my eyes trailed further down: there were cards for the loss of someone’s mother, wife, father, husband, even son and daughter. Suddenly the “Care and Concern” section of the card aisle had morphed into something personal, something intrusive. And at the bottom left corner of the card display? The loss of a pet. That was the final swing of the hammer for me.
I glared at the cards and felt my anger at death start to bubble up inside me. How dare they, I thought. How dare they shout to the universe that people die sometimes before they’re supposed to in this crooked world we stumble around in. And by the prices on the back of the cards, they were making a pretty penny off of it, too. I felt someone pass behind me as I held a “mother card” in my hand; I felt what must’ve been their glance as they maneuvered around me.
“How dare they,” I thought acidly, “proclaim to strangers what I’m looking at. It’s nobody’s damn business.”
I was surprised at my anger, which began dissipating almost as quickly as it arrived. I started pulling out cards and reading them and finally selected two: sympathy for the loss of your mother (despite my initial misgivings) and sympathy to the family. The mother card had a message that sounded like something that could help my friend, something I would write perhaps; the other card was pure and simple. I walked away to go cash out at the self checkout scanner, the area where introverts go to thrive and avoid people.
When I got home, the cards sat on the counter away from the pan I was preparing the tomato sauce mixture in (vegan, of course). These rectangles of paper represented something, as they caught my sight during dinner preparations. They represented a small indication of a reality that nobody really wanted, but something that was true anyway.
Jesus wept when Lazarus died. Today, I felt anger at death. I was surprised at myself, but knew God would understand. He conquered the grave, after all. He knew we were meant to live forever–with Him.
I’ll mail out the cards tomorrow. Weak, fragile testimonies to the beginnings and endings of life.