After several months in the hospital, the end was near. Aunt had only one desire in the end – she wanted to die at home. So, we brought her home. Hospice came. Family gathered.
It was Meg’s birthday (only 11 at the time) and another young cousin had a birthday approaching within days. What do you do? We threw a party. (We’re Sicilian. What can I say?) Growing up, my Aunt’s house (one that she shared with my Mamaw) was always filled with the sound of laughter and the smell of spaghetti sauce. Sunday afternoons meant family dinners and multiple helpings.
My older cousins and I fell back on what we knew. We picked up a cake. The kids played – running and laughing through the house and yard. The smell of homemade spaghetti sauce filled the silent gaps when our minds wandered, wondering is this really the end?
As odd as our little birthday party may sound, I wouldn’t take it back. Even though Aunt didn’t wake after coming home, she exited this world to the sounds and scents of love – a love that she helped to create.
My daughters (along with their sisters and cousins) had the privilege of being with their Mimi during her last days and hours. Megan (who is often wise beyond her years) recalls how special the experience was in terms of the amazing display of love. The family members gathered at her house were a direct product of the love that Mimi created during her lifetime. Gathered to pour back that love during Mimi’s final moments on this earth.
Wow – I can only pray that I’m building that kind of legacy. Are you? What kind of love is required?
We’ve all heard it read at weddings… “Love is patient, love is kind …” It’s all sweet and sentimental, but when buried under the weight of emotions (and hormones), the full import of Paul’s words is lost. Paul was talking about love for all – not just spouses. The kind of love that gathers its power from the vulnerability of those who dare to share it. C. S. Lewis puts it like this –
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Before loss entires our lives, being vulnerable comes almost naturally. Look at little children. They freely swing their arms around the necks of parents and proclaim, “I wub ewe.” Enter rejection, separation, loss. Our arms no longer swing as freely. We become tentative. Despite all of that, one day we risk again. Rejection, separation, loss return. Our arms fall to our sides.
Then one day, something happens to make you lift your arms again. For me, I became a mom. Parenthood yanks your heart right out of your chest and puts it on full display. Your arms fly up to embrace those little ones with their awkward kisses and broken English even though you know that they will be the very source of heartache at times.
Enter loss. Real physical loss. Enter real caskets – not just the figurative ones. Where does the love go then? How do you risk again? Why did we risk love in the first place? It’s worth the risk.
“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) Why is love the greatest? Faith and hope are pretty good. Because love is different. It transcends all – even death. When they say, “you can’t take it with you” the only thing they aren’t talking about is love. Love endures forever. Love never dies. Caskets cannot contain love. It is almost certainly the one thing that we will take with us when we go.
Building a legacy of love takes a lifetime, but isn’t a function of time or age. It’s a function of heart. Love pierces that thin veil between this world and the next. Heaven is but a whisper away as the whisper of one heart to another penetrates that sacred space between now and eternity.
That’s the truth that I know about love. I wish that I could say that it is the truth that I live about love – day in and day out. Instead, like everyone else, I find myself under constant attack from rejection, pain and loss. Sometimes, I find my arms sticking to my side when they should be around someone’s aching heart. My hands are in my pockets when they should be outstretched to lift up another.
Yet, if we wait for life to get easy – it’ll be too late. My Aunt didn’t have an easy life but we still feel her presence. Mimi’s love is still lifting up those she touched. They loved in spite of loss. Frankly, it might have been my Aunt’s way of giving the middle finger to the devil himself. She was kinda spunky like that.
Maybe, we should all be a little spunky like that and give the devil the middle finger by loving in spite of our collective losses. Evil wins when the losses layer themselves around our hearts choking out the ability to love – to connect. As the layers choke out our ability to connect – they give us a false sense that our hearts are protected from the biting frost of pain. Removing the layers exposes the heart to the sun – where it then risks the burn of another loss. We have to find ways to take that risk. This is that vulnerable love that Paul was talking about. This is the love that follows us to heaven.
We may need faith to reach heaven, but love is the key that will unlock gates when we arrive. “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?’” (Mother Teresa) However difficult learning to love again may be – it is worth the effort now – and for eternity.
On a sad note, our little tribe experienced another loss this week – Edward J. Corass, Jr. – or as I knew him, Mr. Eddie. Without attempting to untangle the complexity of our little tribe –my girls and my “supplemental daughter,” Lauryn, just knew him as “Pawpaw.” Much love to the entire Corass family as they celebrate Mr. Eddie’s life. May their hearts forever hear his love whispering back to them through that thin veil that separates this world from the next.