Monday, July 31, 2006


My Uncle Howard, about whom I've written before, died this past weekend, and I'll be driving to Lake Charles, Louisiana after work today so I can attend the funeral on Tuesday. He was a great bear of a man, my Uncle Howard, a wonderful father to his children, husband to his wife Claudia, and brother to my father and his sister Kathy.

Funerals make me more confused than anything. It's a time when religion is supposed to comfort us the most, but I just end up feeling even more conflicted by it. Why is the system set up like this, that our bodies wear out and suffer for so long? Why do we have to die, if God loves us and wants us close to Him, why not just have us born in Heaven? It all feels like some sick play with us as the star and God as the malevolent director, making us twist and turn in the wind to pass the time.

Atheism isn't any better. Someone's dead and they're returning to the same inorganic matter that they came from, end of story. There's no afterlife, this is all we get, and once the curtain falls, the show's over, everyone out of your seats, thanks for coming, folks.

But at the end of the day, no matter what you believe, those of us who remain have to live with the simple fact that someone we love is dead, and it sucks to be left here without them.

When I'm walking the property and I come across a tree that's an unusual shape, or find a ravine that's been cut by a flash flood, I can tell what went on in its past. The tree grows sideways because there used to be a bigger tree over there, and the sunlight was better over here. So that's where it grew, sheltered from the harsher elements by the bigger one but also shaped by it. That bigger, older tree is gone now, but it lives on, echoed in the shape of the one that's left behind.

The waters that carve the gully are long since passed, nourishing plants and animals well downstream. But its legacy lives on, a permanent mark on the soil that tells its own tale, while giving homage to the forces that shaped it.

So too we each touch each others' lives, each person we've loved and been loved by a monument to who we were and what we did with the time we had on this earth. I don't think there's any more comfort, or any greater testament, to be had than that for our mortal existence, no matter what happens to us afterwards.

If you believe in God, then surely Uncle Howard is there with Him. And if you don't, then take comfort from the sure, indisputable, rock-solid practical every day truth that he definitely lives on in those whose lives he touched with his love, his honor, and the wonderfully warm fact of his presence.

1 comment:

Denise said...

I'd have to say I agree with a scene in "City Slickers" where Mitch is talking about Curly's death, and his two friends had a bet on how long it takes Mitch to think about his own death. He tells them it's natural, and I'd agree. Anything like death, the birth of a child, a tragedy or a happy event causes many of us to reflect on how we got to this point. At Uncle Howard's funeral, I wondered why he was gone and so many crappy people are still here on earth. What really got to me was seeing his grandchildren because they loved their "Pappy." But in each one of them, he planted a seed to be good to nature, to remember to enjoy the outdoors, to love your family and to be kind to children. Death only takes away the physical presence of people, not the imprint they've made on our consciousness. Yes, it's awful to go to funerals. Yes, death, especially a lingering one like Uncle Howard experienced, is wretchedly unfair. I don't have the answers -- I continue to search for them. Until then, everything teaches us a lesson, just as you pointed out in your walks around your land. Surely you see the viciousness of nature and the animals, as when you described your dogs going after that fawn. But you've also seen new birth, right underneath the rafters. Consider that God presents all of life -- death, rebirth, suffering, sorrow, happiness and love. It is up to each one of us what we make of these experiences. I shall miss Uncle Howard's presence, but his spirit lives on in his seven children and those beautiful grandchildren and in Aunt Claudia who still found time to say something encouraging to me at her house. That's the true miracle, that in pain and sorrow, she can still be kind to others. What I thought about was that Daddy, Uncle Dukie and Uncle Lionel were waiting for Uncle Howard with fishing poles and a huge smile. I think they're up there fishing while keeping watch on all of us down here. There's where my faith comes into play, not in the wondering why but in the belief that there is another level to life that I just have to believe is waiting. And I hope when it's my time, those who've gone before me are waiting for me with an ice cream sundae, a Snickers bar and a place at the Scrabble board.