The Cheering Section
The first person I knew really well who died was my friend Christopher’s mother. Carole was the mother hen, really, of our town. Everyone knew her, and if there was ever a house where we needed to have a party or an event for a school function, she was quick to offer hers. I remember hosting a party for a high-school Shakespearean acting group from Canada. The students didn’t count on there being a hot tub but didn’t let their lack of sartorial preparation stand in their way. God bless Canadians. But Carole didn’t bat an eye. Kids are kids, after all.
I was at work when I got the news she’d died, and I wasn’t prepared for it in the least. I’d had relatives die—ones I’d loved a great deal. I wasn’t as close to them, though. I wasn’t close to their three children, their nieces and nephews, their family friends, like I was to Carole’s. It was hard to focus on the computer screen ahead of me, so I went to the parent of the office, the managing partner, sort of a pillar of the legal community, and sat in one of the chairs in front of his desk.
I explained what had happened and I started to cry. Our office parent had raised two children very nicely, suffered the death of his first wife, and he’d been in charge of an office like this for some time. He’d seen plenty in his day and was always kind. He said, “Well, T. J., I’m sorry to say you’re at the age when this is going to start to happen more and more. She sounds like an amazing lady, and it was good you got to know her so well.” His certainty and almost regularity of what I was feeling helped me a lot.
That night I said my bedtime prayers. And I didn’t get too far into them before I was crying again. It wasn’t because I was sad, though. It was because I was surprised, almost shocked, to have the sensation that Carole was just waiting for me to finish talking to whoever I was talking to so she could have a chance to chat with me. Carole was a devout Christian, who prayed that her body wracked with so many problems would melt away and her soul would be free. The almost giddy delight I felt made me think that came to pass.
A Lutheran pastor friend of mine heard me tell this story and only nodded with certainty. He said, “Yes, that’s the Communion of Saints.” I took it (likely blasphemously) to mean that as we age and the lives we love die a mortal death, the cheering section of souls in the afterlife for each one of us gets larger and larger.
I know that many religious ideas grow from the pains humans before us felt—they are ways of making us feel better. I know that parents (even office parents) and friends help us to feel better in the face of pain with kind words and promises that the universe can’t keep. But I also know that whether by imagination, rationalization, or by blessed miracle, somehow I keep getting to know the lives lost to me in this life better and better, whether as children of a loving creator or simply as children of a world we share. At every age, it happens more and more. And at this, I doubt Carole would even bat an eye. Kids are kids, after all.
And may it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.