13 May 2002

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee..."
   - John Donne

Mercy. This was absolutely the worst day I can remember.

I went to the funeral service today for Rolf and Amy Andersen. I have never seen such a thing before, and I hope never to see such a thing again in the brief time I have here on this swarming little planet at the far end of the galaxy. Everything was doubled, it seemed. Double the number of people who generally attend such events. Double the number of coffins. Double the amount of grief.

They were vacationing when Death arrived for them, in the form of a pickup truck with a blown tire crossing a dividing strip and overturning in front of their rental car. Witnesses say nothing could be done for them, and that things happened fast. Death scooped them up when the metal, plastic, flesh and bone all fused. Rolf, Amy, and their unborn baby all stepped out of time together, and into eternity.

The coffins were closed. There were flowers sitting on both, elegant grand sprays of violet-hued roses, mixed with miniature gladioli, daylilies, and purple heather. Rolf used to grow roses in his garden for Amy. I remember him telling me one day what a pleasure it was for him to cut the roses and give them to Amy, how she would smile and inhale the fragrance, and then kiss him silly with her thanks. The flowers were being watered today by all the tears we shed, and as the tears were salty, they will grow no more roses. It didn't matter, though, because of all Rolf's roses, his most prized flowers, the blossoms he most cherished, lay unmoving and empty in the wooden box beside his own.

It was impossible to tell whose body occupied which coffin. There were no distinguishing marks, no identifying tags that said, "Rolf's remains are here, Amy's there." I knew, too, that Amy's box bore a terrible burden -- when she died in the crash, so did the five-month-old life within her. There were two hearts in the box, and two generations of children for the parents to mourn. I don't know why the polished wood did not burst from the weight of all the grief it contained. But I could not tell just by looking, which was the fuller box.

I can scarcely comprehend the grief in the family. Two such nice, kind, gentle people, one cannot imagine. That they were known and loved, an impossible heartache to bear. I was numb, listening to the two ministers talking us through the forms of social mourning -- a hymn to God's glory, some Psalms, another hymn praising the everlasting mercies, and prayers for the dearly departed. Tears leaked unbidden from my eyes, and I was not aware of them until I felt one drop on the back of my hand.

One minister said it was not God's will that these people died, or died the way they did. He said, God is not going to interfere with the course of our lives, but when bad things happen, He will embrace us and receive us and tend us, if only we open our hearts to Him. The minister said, God is "minimal prevention, but maximum care." I could not help but bristle, thinking this was a better description of a bad HMO ("no preventive measures, but excellent care once you're sick"), and unworthy of worship, if this is indeed the truth.

The homilies were intended to comfort us, but there was no comfort to be had, no way to overcome the shock and horror, no solace or peace as the coffins were wheeled down the aisles. Rolf, Amy and the unborn child stepped out of time, and left us behind to figure out how we could continue to exist in time, with all of them gone. As I watched the hearses drive away with their precious, still burdens, I was thinking there should have been only one coffin, and they should have shared it, the way they shared life, love, and death.

Excuse me. I have some meditating to do.


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