“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – Albus Dumbledore to Harry, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 17, JK Rowling
“Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.” - Ygritte to Jon, A Storm of Swords, multiple references,George R.R. Martin
Our Benet Hill family gathered yesterday evening at Sr. Marilyn’s home in support of a cherished classmate who recently lost her husband. Her loss was sudden, described as a ‘trip over the rapids’ as opposed to a ‘leisurely inner-tube-ride down the river,’ which the doctors had suggested was an option. It was lovely to be with my classmates again and beautiful to participate in their love and support. But (there’s always a ‘but’ with this topic) it’s so painful to see someone suffer and not be able to help. I felt painfully inadequate, too naïve and unprepared to assist anyone with their grief. As I drove home Ygritte’s words played on an infinite and unwelcome loop in my head, “You know nothing, you know nothing.”
No one really knows anything about death, except perhaps those who have had a near-death experience, but some folks have more experience with loss and standing alongside those who grieve. Sister Marilyn is one of those people, and I find it helpful to watch her and see how she handles situations of loss and sorrow and grief. As a hospital chaplain she has stood by many bedsides and comforted many families. She makes me feel death’s normalcy, its part in the rhythm of life, despite the pain that it brings.
Just last week our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith class explored the topic of death. The atmosphere was dark at first, but after talking about our fears (or lack thereof) for an hour or more, the tension eased and we laughed together, particularly when someone said her husband was only allowed to remarry if he places a huge portrait of her in the bedroom! The subject of death cannot be avoided indefinitely, so it can help to raise it to the light. To my surprise, many folks in the class do not fear death. I do, because I want to raise my children and cannot bear to think of missing them. I’m also quite fond of being here. My classmates with grown children, however, have “well-organized minds,” and are willing to go on to the next great adventure, though hoping for a speedy and comfortable ride. Many referred to stories of near-death experiences of folks they knew personally or from stories they had read. All found comforting the fact that these stories are always positive, loving, light-filled.
This morning I spoke to another friend whose parent received a dark diagnosis over the weekend. The news is very painful for her and her family and for those who love her. I swam laps with tears and chlorine in my eyes, my breath catching more than usual. Ygritte’s words returned to bounce around in my head: “you know nothing, you know nothing.” The words are true, but I am willing to learn, to be there, to stand alongside, and to share any piece of the burden that can be mine.