Déjà vu: Celebrating the ‘Life’ of a loved one

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” sings the sad Karen Carpenter who never found the love of her life. Her haunting voice combined with the lyrics of her music always tugs at my heart. I was such a big fan of her talent and listening to her I can pick up the deep sorrow that is reflected in her songs.

On this particular song, I can relate to her melancholy mood especially this 2009 when the death date of my first husband fell on the exact day, Monday, January 5th. Add to that the fact it was very rainy so in my mind it was easier to remember the experience of that tragic time.

Before I bring you all down like Karen’s rainy Mondays, let me explain this is a not the attempt to remind everyone so much of a death. I detest those tributes that want us to focus on that one moment in what was 41 years of a great life.

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Personally, glorifying the death event is keeping the person in that one snapshot. Just as the roadside tributes of crosses and flowers were not the way I wanted everyone to remember Norman. Some roadside memorials are tasteful, but many these days are distracting, such as the giant size horse shoe-shaped display to signify someone died there. Great. Now, I might die there too from the surprise of the object next to the dangerous patch of road.

I fear these displays are getting bigger and soon we may have spotlights, laser shows, and neon crosses to shout out someone died here! Okay! Again, when Aunt Sally dies in her chair, I have yet to see anyone stick a wreath of flowers next to it!

Remember the life… not the death.

This past week as the days fell in exact sequence as they did in 1998, I relived the final days of a person’s life. Wondering if he had known, would he have done anything different? Were his last days good full days of living?

Should we have the choice of knowing we are dying, how do we want the final days to play out? Sick people sometimes have the choice of knowing they are dying and are able to work on the gory details and prepare the family, but their final death may not be as beautiful as a Hollywood movie. Randy Pausch of “Last Lecture” fame had brought much attention to a person’s journey of living his last days. His grace in dying touched millions, including me.

What way is preferable? I think we all agree that we would choose to exit this earth by living an extremely long and rich life and dying in our sleep. That is a successful death.

In my experience I feel Norman had a great few last days. For the New Year’s celebration we gathered with our children, my brother and his wife and built a bonfire. It was a quiet family gathering in which we looked forward to another new year. On New Year’s Day, Norman and I double-dated with my brother and his wife, going to Slidell to see the movie Titanic.

I had no clue how much the movie would interconnect with my life and the coming events, but that is another story.

On Friday night, we went to the mall shopping with the kids and we were all so happy the experience was very pleasant, the boys were on their best behavior at the ripe ages of ten and six. I bought a dress for the next night’s big event, a trip to the Saenger theater in New Orleans to see the “Phantom of the Opera.” (We NEVER did things like that!)

On Saturday, before we went to the spectacular production of the Phantom for which we had the worse tickets ever, that afternoon, we went on a long walk on the family farm with his mother. It was such a nice time for us as a family.

By Sunday, as the rest of us recovered from the late night, Norman took off to church. He had been away from the ministry for over a year and was excited about returning to church work in the near future. His life was all about music and serving God.

Life was good for us on that rainy Monday. We finally were financially making it due to my new job at Stennis and after years of struggling with money issues my firstborn son made the comment to me while I was waiting for Norman to come home that evening, “We are rich aren’t we mom?”

That was a big statement since we usually had one vehicle, rarely had a phone, spent five years without health insurance, and never went out. Circumstances had changed for us. Lately we were able to do these things, we had three cars at that moment, Christmas had been very big, so my son assumed we were financially well off now. Compared to our history, financially we were much better off, but I explained to him, we had always been rich, just not with possessions. I would have never dreamed that at that exact moment our world was about to be shaken.

It was shaken, but during our moment of great sorrow, our community, our family and friends embraced us in great love and with our faith in God, we pulled through the days and weeks with strength. I have never had such a deep sense of God as when I leaned completely on him. I never blamed God for any bad things that happen. Life is a gift. It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The moral of the story is we may never know the events that may lead up to the day we die. As we kiss our loved one goodbye, we hope that at the end of the day, they will return. Or even that you will be there to welcome them home.

We must live each day, not just go through the motions.

I keep telling myself that but once in awhile I need a big kick in the rear to remind myself of how precious and delicate our days are. Have I got your attention? Wake up and smell the coffee! Go do something worthy of the day.

Tracy Williams is a guest columnist and can be reached at myhometown@comcast.net