A Death Anniversary by Robynn
On April 12, 2014, our youngest daughter, Bronwynn, went bowling with her Sunday School teachers. The previous week she and I had been to a special Butterfly Pavilion at the mall. There she had purchased three tiny caterpillars in a precarious cardboard box with her own money. She had watched the caterpillars with anticipation. And she was not disappointed. They had been transformed right in front of her eyes. The cat had apparently also been watching from a distance. When Bronwynn was away from the house bowling, the cat seized his opportunity. He must have noticed a rustling and ruffling noise coming from the small cardboard box. Ever curious, he attacked the box and by the time Bronzi came home, there was only one rather traumatized monarch left in the box, quivering on a small broken stick.
My husband, Lowell broke the news to her on the way home from the bowling alley. Her grief was in full swing when they reached the house. She was so angry at that cat! She searched the house, thinking, hoping, praying the missing monarchs were still somewhere. Her denial quickly gave way to greater waves of rage and sorrow. She sobbed. She cried. She told the cat, in no uncertain terms, how she felt. We took the remaining butterfly outside and she released it to the spring trees, to the camaraderie of other butterflies, to the joy of freedom.
Unbeknownst to us, that was the prequel to our grief.
Later in the day we went to a dinner party with friends from church. While we were there our son Connor called. The car had died. He was just about to leave his girlfriend’s house but the car wouldn’t start. Lowell excused himself from the circle and went to get Connor.
Another sympathetic element perhaps?
An hour or so after he had left, Lowell called my cell phone. I saw his name come up and I started to laugh. I just knew that he was calling to see where I was, when I was coming home! I took the phone into the entryway and answered it. I’ll never forget Lowell’s words, “Robynn, there’s no good way to say this but…… Dad is dead!”
The air that escaped my body was loud enough to silence the room. Every one gathered near or around me. They waited with me while I waited to hear Lowell’s voice quickly, quietly, tell me what he knew, which wasn’t very much. There had been an accident involving a tractor. His brother Bryan was out there. Lowell was on his way. He hadn’t told the kids. Could I come home and be with them?
Who knew that one tractor, one load of firewood, and one too-steep hill could have so much power to change the stories of our entire family? It still makes my chest tighten all funny to think of Lowell’s mom waiting in the house for dad to come back in the dying day’s fading light. I can imagine her agonies over when to make that phone call to Bryan to please come look for dad. There was another phone call from Bryan to Lowell asking him to come help and to please bring flashlights and batteries. And then that one sudden discovery midway through that particular phone conversation: dad, covered in saw dust and cedar tree needles and the earth’s dirt, laying there in the dark, pinned under a tractor tire.
Everything changed that day and in some ways we continue to live into those changes. We’re still settling into them. We moved to a house appropriate for three generations to share. Mom moved off the farm and in with us. Bryan’s family moved out to the farm. Eventually Bryan’s house sold and they bought the farm. Although it felt at times, that the melody was silenced, we shifted around like a game of musical chairs.
Last year Larry’s death happened a week before Easter; this year the anniversary of his death is a week after Easter Sunday;. We were a week into funeral arrangements and death details when we pushed pause in order to remember Good Friday and to celebrate Easter Sunday. Larry’s death was all entangled and entwined with our observances and our celebrations. His death was all mixed together with the Resurrection.
Today is, In Western Christian tradition, Good Friday. It’s a death anniversary of a more significant sort. The execution of Jesus, although no accident, changed the stories of masses of people that day. Who knew that one crude cross and another too-steep hill, one confusing trial, one chaotic crowd and one innocent man could have such eternal consequence? It makes my chest do that uncomfortable tightening again to think of another mother waiting at the foot of the cross for the Father to do something to end the Son’s agonies. She too had to wait while the day died and along with it her dreams, her expectations, her plans, her baby.
I suppose, from now on, my experience with Good Friday and Easter will always be a little entwined with my memories of butterflies and stubborn cars and Larry’s death. Death happened. Larry suddenly, shockingly, surprisingly stopped breathing. It makes complete sense that his death be all wrapped up in the bigger story of the Resurrection. Because that’s the way it really is. All of our deaths are now forever consumed in that Wholly Momentous Resurrection! Death is now wrapped in hope. It’s lost it’s power to paralyze. The cocoons are ripped open and we are transformed in the blink of an eye, released to life and the joy of true freedom. Larry’s death serves to remind me of these sweet realities.
Today, on Good Friday, I choose to sit in my grief. I remember Larry—alive, hospitable, generous—and now gone. I remember Jesus—alive, full of grace and mercy, a friend of sinners—put to death. Larry ‘s death brings me to tears. Jesus’ death, sorrowful and somber, is also cause for deep sacred grief.
The death of Jesus is also deeply holy and redemptive. The story isn’t over on Good Friday. We wait for the fullness of time. We wait for the plan that is bigger and higher and broader than ours. We wait with anticipation for Life! We wait expectantly for Sunday and the Resurrection.
If you…believe that the Lord Jesus Christ Is the Eternal (One), and that He died for all your sins, then for you, Good Friday is the most sorrowful, the most solemn, and yet, one of the holiest days of the entire year. (WikiHow)
“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,this Scripture will be fulfilled:
Death is swallowed up in victory.O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”