Tuesday, March 6, 2018—Episode 21—Graves into Gardens

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today’s scripture is The Song of the Three Young Men, verses two through four and eleven through 20A.

Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud:

“Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise;
and glorious is your name for ever!

For you are just in all you have done;
all your works are true and your ways right,
and all your judgments are true;

For your name’s sake do not give us up for ever,
and do not annul your covenant.
Do not withdraw your mercy from us,

for the sake of Abraham your beloved
and for the sake of your servant Isaac
and Israel your holy one,

to whom you promised
to multiply their descendants like the stars of heaven
and like the sand on the shore of the sea.

For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any other nation,
and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins.

In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader,
no burnt-offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense,
no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy.

Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted,
as though it were with burnt-offerings of rams and bulls,
or with tens of thousands of fat lambs;
such may our sacrifice be in your sight today,
and may we unreservedly follow you,
for no shame will come to those who trust in you.

And now with all our heart we follow you;
we fear you and seek your presence.

Do not put us to shame,
but deal with us in your patience
and in your abundant mercy.

Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works.”

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Death, I understand neither your timing nor your choices. I have known people to squander a retirement, and I have known people who have died on the brink of plans that would serve others. I have known babies whose lives were barely a breath. How is that decided? The three young men remind me of young, stupid mistakes. Most of us survive them. A few do not. A friend of mine is the youngest of eight. Three of her sisters died young of a genetically-caused cancer. Her mother buried a husband too young and then three of their eight children. Where are the answers for that family? Who gets saved from early death? And why? Who gets left to mourn? And why?

We are left knowing there is precious little we can know for sure in this life. There is the power of friendship, and it is taught over and over. I learned the power of friendship the day after a high school reunion. It had been a weekend of barbeque and conversation and dancing. But on the cloudy day after, several classmates gathered with me on the edge of town in an old graveyard next to what was once a little brick church. Ashes of my first husband, Scott, and our son, Ted, lay next to one another, and their gravestones were ready at last. I had covered the graves with a blanket Scott and I bought on a trip we took to Scotland. Scott was thrilled to find the Hamilton hunting plaid. For years, it was folded across the foot of Ted’s bed, to help him remember the father he lost shortly after turning two.

It started to gently rain, softening the ground for the bulbs and plants friends had brought. They dug and planted and watered. And by the time we needed umbrellas, the graves were a garden. When I thanked them, I told them that I do not understand why these men who were my life died at the ages of 32 and 27. But that losing Scott, losing Ted, had taught me that it is the kindness of others that keeps me breathing. And that at that moment, surrounded by such kind friends, I knew I could keep breathing.

Friends read prayers from The Book of Common Prayer Scott gave me our last Christmas. That misty morning, with weather that could have come from Scotland, graves were turned into gardens. Through the power of friends without answers. With only the power of friendship.

This fall, the friend who served as Teddy’s godmother and I will go to Scotland over the anniversary of his passing. By then, I hope to know where the Hamilton who left Scotland for the States lived, so we can scatter some of Ted’s and Scott’s ashes there. Once again, we’ll know the power of friendship and we’ll learn once again, again how thin is the veil between this life and the next.

Grief is a thin place.