The mother of a friend passed away unexpectedly this week, days after being celebrated by family at a wonderful surprise party for her 80th birthday, and I attended a memorial service in her honor yesterday.
I found myself moved by the observance, which isn't the typical reaction I have in these sorts of moments and I suspect that's true for most of you, although these things hit us all differently. I only met his mom a few times so I was there more as an onlooker. I learned about her life from the stories shared by those who spoke and it seems this is a woman after my own heart in two important respects. She may or may not have written often but she wrote well, an excerpt of a short story she wrote having been read. She was also someone of diverse musical tastes, something reflected in the songs chosen in her honor by the family.
The pastor shared a story of his daughter at play in her yard with a new kite as a means of explaining to us the role she played in the lives of her family: a tether, an anchor. My mind fragmented during this story as its purpose was revealed and these are some of the pieces that landed...
A room full of mourners could not diminish the glow of a father recalling his daughter at play and the memory of that simple act inspiring words of comfort to the grieving. It may seem odd or out of place but that radiating love shared from parent to child is the very heart of why we were assembled.
I've spent time thinking about a life in flight, the exhilarating sensation of soaring and the joy of ascending. I hadn't considered the importance of the ground for someone flying above. Any of us who leave the ground eventually look down and in those intense moments when we do, we yearn for something solid and find comfort in the safety of a landing strip. That is who she was to those around her.
Naturally a song came to mind, one poignant and perfect for this moment. The song "Kite" by U2 works because of the story but it fits even better because Bono wrote it in anticipation of the impending passing of his father, describing it at one show as a song about letting go of someone you don't want to let go of. He says near the end of it "Life should be fragrant." I am confident her life was an aromatic bouquet knowing her son and daughter-in-law, hearing the stories, and sitting among the many lives she touched.
Death puts our heart at the center of a rope, mourning the loss competing at one end against celebrating the life of our loved one at the other in a confusing, exhausting game of tug-of-war. There are moments when those on the mourning end of the rope seem impossibly overpowering because when that kind of life ends, there will be a void that, with time and the quality of love in that room, can be partially refilled but not all the way and not in quite the same way. They're missed and yet when memories and reminders wash over us, celebration tugs with renewed vigor. "Kite" shares the source of a strength capable of ending the battle once and for all: hope. "Kite" shares the source of a strength: hope. We all go back to where we belong and with Bono's passionate declaration we free ourselves to continue our own lives while cherishing the departed in the present tense:
"I know that this is not goodbye."