Death can be narcissistic. Learning of someone’s death, we turn inward. We reflect on our own lives and wonder how much longer we have. Particularly when someone’s death is sudden,
we have a greater tendency to see our own end in the not-so-distant future.
But death also is a means of remembrance – for both the one who has passed on and of our own life as well, and what such a life will now look like without that individual in it.
Last week, a professor in the English Department passed away rather suddenly, throwing a dark shadow over the entire faculty and graduate student community.
In times like these, you realize just how small your community is: walking past her office door last week, only to realize that she’ll never again grace the halls or have her door open for tea.
The announcement took us by surprise, but I also wondered about her students: returning from midterm break, they found that the remainder of the semester would be spent with another professor.
Death brings about sudden change. Immediately, we are asked to think of its sudden blow and begin planning for what comes next.
In that change, however, there is new life. There is a moving forward: there must be.
As I listened to the reflections shared during the memorial service, there was an overwhelming sense of life. A sense of peace: there is nothing to fear in death because it is not the end. It’s only a change. In death, we find new life: a different life, a heavenly life. Death is, in some respects, a reunion.
As I left the memorial service, it began to rain. The clouds that had been threatening overhead during the interment began their release. Throwing up my umbrella, I became acutely aware of the darkness – not only the rain, but the blackness of our clothes. And suddenly, my eyes caught the soft purple of a small crocus. Off to the side, nestled in the grass under a large tree, a pop of soft color.
There is life in death, just as there is light in darkness.
The Scriptures from the fourth Sunday of Lent recalled a similar message. The ending of the second reading, from Ephesians, reminded us of this: “but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’”
I had never thought of the timing of Lent prior to this year. Unlike Christmas, the Lenten and Easter seasons are not set to a calendar date. However, it always occurs during spring. As the earth starts to show its own signs of awakening – the new shoots of grass, the buds slowly forming and emerging from the earth – we, too, are reminded of the strength of God’s light and his ability to make all things new, even in the face of death.
I learned through the many reflections posted by my fellow faculty members of a more personal side of the person that I had known in a professional setting. In my graduate work, she was the first person I was assigned to as a research assistant.
As many of the personal stories revealed, gardening was one of her passions. My husband and I had decided weeks ago that this particular weekend would be the weekend we began our indoor seedlings and transplanted our strawberries outside. Spring is the time of rebirth. Preparing our own garden, my husband was immersed in the dark clay-like soil, tilling what will become a vegetable path, while I noticed the emerging bright yellow and burnt orange of the ranunculus I had planted. Light emerges from the darkness.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.