Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Funerals and a Road Trip

Easter in Georgia has been an idyllic experience. This year Mom packed up the ham and other food and we took it to a local park for a picnic. The thermometer was in the 70s or so (as opposed to the 40 degrees and ten inches of snow we had left behind us in Michigan), and apart from a few Bubbas and their wayward football it was a lovely day.

Some of the food was left over from a funeral my parents had organized the day before. A member of their church had committed suicide in the church parking lot (thankfully the pastor found him). It sounds as though this man had suffered from mental problems for quite some time -- and that on more than one occasion he had been extremely rude to both my parents, so that they personally were not greatly affected by his death. However, as a "deacon" in her church, Mom organizes the funerals and practical services needed by those in the church so that the pastor can focus on teaching and preaching. So she was obligated to attend this man's as well. An intimate family-only gathering blossomed into an event for 400+ people.

I believe it was Thomas Merton who said, "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal." There was a time when a suicide such as this would have been quietly handled off church premises, the family forced to carry as much as possible the "secret" of the circumstances of their loved one's death. This presents a double burden, for the devastation and anger the family feels over this particular form of loss must have a voice, or else it festers and turns inward. (It may be partly for this reason that among young people suicides often happen in "waves.") Suicide is often a supremely selfish act, at best a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I got a call from Craig. Our friend Ken Miller had dropped dead suddenly Easter morning. His wife came in and found him on the floor. No warning. Just ... gone. Ken was a warm-hearted, intelligent man; just a few weeks ago at a company birthday party I chatted with Ken and his wife, Carol, about his love of French and Russian literature. (He thought ... sweetly but wrongly ... that since I had published books I would be similarly well-read.) He and Carol had been struggling to accept the sudden relocation of Ken's son and his wife, who up and moved to a distant state without telling Ken and Carol where or when they were leaving. (No doubt there is more to the story; family relationships are seldom as simple from the inside as they appear from without.)

When I first heard the news, my thoughts went immediately to the son, Jeff. How would he handle the news of his father's death, knowing that his actions must have contributed in some way to the stress that brought on the heart attack? Knowing that he never had a chance to reconcile with his Dad?

But I confess that the next thoughts that came to me hit especially hard. The man was CRAIG'S age, only 54. The combined stress of work and home and a lifetime of cheeseburgers) -- the same stress that had induced Craig to stay and work while the rest of us drove to my parents' house for Easter -- had brought it on. I wondered how Ken's death was going to affect my husband, get him to re-evaluate his priorities (and possibly his vocational choices).

So ... tomorrow we start back home in order to attend a funeral. Even though our relationship isn't a formal one -- technically they are colleagues of my husband's -- I want to be there. I need to be there. Someday it will be me, and so for now I need to stand with her.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Ken Miller, and for his wife Carol and their family, that this shared grief will be an opportunity for grace and healing.


Ebeth said...

Wow, sorry about your news, especially for dear Carol! My prayers for you and your family and a safe travel day, and for the Miller family.

Blessings and prayers,

Kate Wicker said...

My prayers are with Ken, his family, and you! Maybe next time you're in my neck of the woods we can get together. God bless!

Sarah Reinhard said...

Oh, Heidi. About 18 months ago, the husband of a woman I knew passed away in a similar way, and was the same age as my husband. I was profoundly moved. They had a small son and it just...struck me. I will pray for them and for you and Craig as well. It is difficult to lose friends.

Big hugs to you all, and safe travels!