Earlier this year, my college classmate Dave died. I saw a mosaic of photos posted on Facebook, one which included me. I stared at the photo. Dave was dead? My classmate who read this blog, who was irreverent and compassionate at the same time. The one who wouldn’t let cancer get the best of him because, in his irreverence, he would best it.
For several days, I mourned. And in my mourning, that sorrow we feel for what can no longer be, I remembered others too.
Nancy was one of the first. We attended high school Chem Lab together. Neither of us liked Chemistry, though we enjoyed our friendship. We encouraged each other, especially when I couldn’t do the math, and she couldn’t write the report. She’d say, “My lab partner’s no dummy.” Then, I repeated it, and we plowed through our assignments, getting B’s in Chemistry because we worked together.
Sometimes, when I doubt what I’m doing, Nancy is saying, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”
When I began seminary, I met Barry, a gentle, pastoral soul, who enjoyed poetry, especially the Psalms. He helped mentor new students, guiding us through summer classes. He explained theology in ways I understood. One day, during a term break, I received an email that he died. I couldn’t believe it. Barry, my guiding light, the poet, was dead.
Sometimes, when I work with the Psalms, I can feel Barry near.
Janice died after we were ordained. We shared several classes together, including Homiletics, where I often sat near her and watched her colour code her sermons with assorted highlighters before she preached. We studied together, sweating out the angst of ministerial reviews, awaiting word that we’d passed the latest test and could continue on our way.
Sometimes, when I highlight my sermons, Janice is smiling.
Then, Mona, like my big sister in seminary, died. I just moved to Florida, not far from where she lived, and I remember her delight in realizing that we’d be reunited and could support each other in ministry, as we did in class. We celebrated each other’s birthdays, meeting at restaurants where we sat for hours, eating, laughing, talking. When I expressed impatience or concern about how things would unfold, she laughed, tilted her head, and said, “Well, Jenn, you’ve only been doing this for like 5 minutes.” I’d shake my head and say, “I know.”
Sometimes, when I feel impatient, I hear Mona calling my name.
Poet James Dillet Freeman says in his poem, “The Traveler,” that when our loved ones die, they “put on invisibility,” though they’re never truly gone. In this season of passing over and rising up, let us remember that death isn’t only an end, but a beginning, too. And that wherever our journeys lead, those we love are with us — still.
© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.