Encountering death and savoring life

"We have to pay attention to get to the new life that comes after a death, but it takes work and intention to get there."

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

“In the bulb there is a flower…” These song lyrics danced through my head as I planted some bulbs this fall, browning leaves swirling around me — a reminder from nature that everything must die. My shovel defiantly broke into the soon-to-be frozen ground, the emptiness welcoming the winter a bulb. I shoveled dirt over the opening like the closing of a tomb, and hope set in as I waited.

I waited for this moment, right now, when I walk out my door in the late winter and see the daffodils starting to peak through the earth. Slowly they will begin to form buds, and eventually, flowers will bloom.

Scientifically, all seasons are about the same length, but I am personally convinced winter is the longest, her icy fingers regularly bringing a reprised chill to the air. There are countless long cold nights between my shovel breaking ground and those beautiful yellow blooms. The endless waiting is hard. I wonder if spring will ever come. I long to skip to the good part! It just doesn’t work that way. To get to the place of blooms, I must wait. I must wrestle with the long nights. I must face the cold over and over.

Much like the bulbs that hold flowers through the dark cold winter, death brings us endings we would rather avoid. We have to pay attention to get to the new life that comes after a death, but it takes work and intention to get there. However, we are often expected to get there as soon as the last napkin is thrown away at the funeral luncheon. This just isn’t how grief and death work. We want to skip ahead to the easier part, yet we must walk, wait and wade through what is in front of us. It is not something that we can rush.

In fact, I would argue that death never really leaves us, we are always aware of our mortality, even if it is just in the back of our minds, which drives many of our fears. The process of grief is lifelong. For instance, my father died 24 years ago. Time has certainly given me the opportunity to find healing. I have lived my life, yet there is this lingering longing him. I still wake up in the morning missing him, and I doubt that will ever change. We do not get over or past death, we learn to live with it.

I suspect as a pastor that I encounter death in a more intimate way and on a more regular basis than the average person — it comes with the calling. I sit at bedsides with people looking death in the face. I preside at funerals. I journey with the bereaved, and I ponder what it all means. The refrain that echoes for me is that I too am merely mortal. One day, death will be mine. This has taught me to appreciate and notice how beautiful life can be. I have bad days, I get sad, I get frustrated and overwhelmed, but I tend to notice the beauty around me. The flowers, the buds on the trees, the colors of the fall leaves, the way the sun glints on the snow, the giggles of children, the hearty laughter of the Bible study, a great meal, good company — all of it is worth savoring. I will only see the daffodils bloom a finite number of times, and I will savor each one.