Tag Archives: after-life

A Year Past: Good Friday at the House of Mary

candles

On Good Friday last year, I found myself, quite by accident, at a place of Christian pilgrimage in Turkey. We were on a shared 30th anniversary trip with dear friends when our tour guide decided to make a second stop after our tour of Ephesus. From the rolling hills covered in new grass and spring blooms adjacent to the sea, our van wound up a hill, arriving at a hilltop surrounded by leafy trees and tall, whispering pines. The breeze immediately cooled us after our warm walk through the long marble promenades of Ephesus. Our guide, Yesra, had brought us to the House of Mary (“Meryemana”), where Mary was believed to have lived during the period that Paul was busy spreading the gospel to the people of Ephesus, which was the strategic heart of the Roman empire in Asia Minor. It felt… peaceful.

houseofstmaryThe house is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, but is also respected by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of a prophet. After people visit the small house built of rectangular stones, which became a chapel after her death, many light candles. There’s also a Muslim wishing wall where people tie notes with their prayers.

We filed in to the quiet chapel where nuns in habits kept vigil by the small altar. For most visitors, it was a short visit: a solemn one-way walk through the small interior followed quickly by an exit into the small courtyard. I stopped in the chapel and knelt at one of the small wooden prayer benches. And I cried. I prayed for my Dad, who was in failing health. Although I am not Catholic, I prayed for Mary to intercede on his behalf and relieve him from the suffering of congestive heart failure and the grief that only the oldest know after their spouses, parents, and friends have gone before them. As I left, one of the nuns silently approached me and handed me a candle.

lightingcandlesOutside, I saw the glass-enclosed stands of candles implanted in sand. I prayed again, as did my friend, Lisa.

Many candles and many prayers later, my Dad was released. I will never forget the look of greeting on his face those last few hours. Dad, this is a good Friday, a better Friday, knowing that you are at peace, even if I miss you every day.

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Let Us Cross Over the River

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom's death

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom’s death

With Mom’s death and now Dad’s, I’ve noticed that it takes time to expurgate the image of them near death – diminished and battling. In Mom’s case, I awakened after three days with a brilliantly clear “dream” of her at the kitchen table in her favorite pink quilted bathrobe. Blessedly, that became the image I carried with me as I mourned her death and celebrated her life.

With Dad, what keeps coming to me are images of water, which I shared in earlier blog posts. I thought the dream about safety drills under freezing water, dozens of stories below ground in a mine, and another about paddling a crew boat across a cold, choppy channel, represented how I was trying to rescue Dad.

Then I had the dream about entering my living room to find a group of seven caregivers. The six clad in white told me they were there to “lift Dad up.” When I asked the caregiver clad in a black swim cap what he was doing there, he said he was for “after.” I knew that he was there to swim Dad across the river, as in the River Styx.

Rereading my emails to my brothers, I came across some from summer before last. All that summer, Dad and I “shade hopped” from one side of the street to the other, walking down Mariemont Avenue, ending across from a large oak tree. Most days, before we crossed, Dad would recite Stonewall Jackson’s final deathbed statement, as transcribed by his physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire. McGuire wrote:

Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

If there is life after death – and I believe there is – surely Dad is resting in the shade by a beautiful river.

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My Dad wonders, “What’s the alternative?”

For Father’s Day, I’m putting together a digital scrapbook of sorts. I came across some notes I scribbled after talking with Dad in 2009. We had talked a little about the fact that he doesn’t live in the past despite some agonizingly painful memories, as when my sister died of leukemia at the age of four:

The past is over. And I can’t live in the future. So I live in the present. I have these distinct periods of my life. They’re almost separate lives. I wish your sister had lived. In my last memory of her she was in an oxygen tent, holding out her arms and saying, “Daddy help me.” I couldn’t do a thing.

It struck me that, as emotional as Dad is, he has been – and is – a very practical man.  He does what has to be done.  When memories are too painful, he doesn’t dwell on them.

A few days later, we talked a little more.

“I’m getting to be an old crock,” he said.  I commented, “You do so much better than most people your age – you’re hardly an old crock.”  Then he said, “I hope it doesn’t shock you, but I look forward to being with your mother again.”

Now, Dad and I had talked about his concept of faith and God many times in the past, and he had expressed regret that he couldn’t quite believe in God, much as he might want to.  Further, he found it unfair that my Mom, a woman of so much faith in God, would express fear of death when she was in the late stages of terminal lung cancer.  So I said, “I take it you do believe in an after-life.”  He replied:  “What’s the alternative?” I’ll take that as a yes.

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