good grief

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Mom’s cancer, with relentless, rapacious appetite, spread from her lungs to her brain, then to her brain lining. Her decline, swift, over the sparest number of weeks, and savage, instant by inexorably passing instant, stripping her of bodily function and proffering only pain.

On April 28, 2017, Geneva Theodosia Reynolds Mack Watkins, the mother of my wife, my mother in law, a proverbial force of nature, yea, verily, nature itself in the immensity of her love, died.

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Since then, I have watched and continue to watch Geneva’s daughter, my wife, Pontheolla, grieve, embracing her sorrowing, weeping heart and soul…

through those initial moments of her acknowledgement of the inevitable; the oncologist saying those dreaded, yet essential and candid words, “There is nothing more we can do”…

through the calling of family members and friends, receiving, responding to their questions, “How?” “When?” “Why?”, accepting, answering their expressions of concern with a  gracious “Thank you”, a slight and earnest nod, a sympathizing falling tear, soon followed by a pitying flood…

through the planning of mom’s funeral, truly, justly a celebration of her life supremely, freely, fully, faithfully well lived; the testimonials from persons from ev’ry path of her earthly being and doing; the songs of praise and the prayers to God, all bidding, believing in her gladsome greeting in the heavenly habitations…

through engaging mom’s affairs – initiating probate, closing accounts, and cleaning her home, sorting through the years of the daily accumulations of living, but more, existentially, spiritually, moving through her space still warm and welcoming with the manifold memories of times spent luxuriating in the wealth of her hospitality…

and through every day and counting since, Pontheolla hails as blessed her ev’ry reminiscence, honors as the bounty of her holy sorrow her ev’ry tear, holds fast to her ev’ry thanksgiving for the nonpareil grace of God incarnate in the life and love of her mother…

Hers is good grief.

my birthday tributes

June 8, 2017. My 65th birthday. As humans reckon time, an important historical, social, and personal benchmark.

I am in a contemplative, and, in part, melancholy mood.

Yes, I am happy (not a word, given my intense early-in-life-and-unto-this-day-awareness of an inner shadowy specter of sadness, I oft employ) to be alive at this time in this world with, all things told, a preponderance of blessed memories, present contentment, and future hopes.

Yet, thinking of my immediate family, I ponder being an orphan and wonder why, beyond the reality of my being the youngest of the four, I am alive, whilst they are not.

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My brother Wayne. Between the two of us, the finer human being. Daily he abides with me in the harrowing (sorrowing) absence of his presence and the hallowing (sanctifying) presence of his absence. I love you, Wayne. Because of you, I have a resident, resonant sense of my better self.

Lolita & William c 1940My father, William, and my mother, Lolita. It took quite the while for me, well into my forties, to see through the veil of my childhood and adolescent disappointments, ever looming, actual and imagined, as haunting reminiscences of the deprivations of my want and need, to behold and honor how rich and real was your love for me. I love you, Dad. I love you, Momma. Because of you, I am.

“after these things” – a meditation for Holy Saturday

Joseph of Arimathea and NicodemusAs John the evangelist tells it, “After these things” – the arrest, trial, condemnation, crucifixion, and death of Jesus – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus rendered homage; Joseph providing the tomb and Nicodemus, spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

In Christian tradition, Good Friday focuses on Jesus’ suffering and dying. Easter Day, his resurrection. Holy Saturday, the “in-between day,” his being dead; which (as I remain alive, thus, not yet having the experience of being dead, and when I will be dead, not knowing whether I will be conscious of the experience) leaves me to contemplate the sorrow of the living.

For Joseph and Nicodemus, as far as they knew, the darkness of their grief at the forever-there-after-death of their friend would last as long as they lived. Still, I behold in them the light of something else that would endure. Their love. For their final act of devotion to Jesus truly was the threshold, the beginning of the rest of their lives…

Joseph, in fear, was a secret disciple; following Jesus along the confined and hidden corridors of his heart. In asking Pilate, the Roman governor, for the body of Jesus, Joseph “blew his cover,” exposing himself as a believer. He was a secret disciple until his public profession of devotion to Jesus crucified his secret. No longer could, would he be undercover…

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a revered observer of God’s Law, “first came to Jesus by night” (John 3); “night,” a metaphor for skeptical curiosity and outright unbelief. In his encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus came to believe; his loyalty shown in his defense of Jesus before his fellow Pharisees (John 7.50) and, at Jesus’ death, in the costly outpouring of a hundredweight of embalming spices.

I believe that Joseph and Nicodemus, somehow, somewhere along the way had made a commitment to follow Jesus; in their sorrow, lovingly dedicating themselves always to revere his memory.

What they could not know was that the first Easter Day, that would transform their sacred sorrow into holy hope and their discipleship of true and loving, though mere blessed memory into the power of their living reality, was soon to dawn.