As we all continue to go deeper into Winter and the Season of Advent, what follows is a reflection I wrote after experiencing the gift of transformative grace when I was visiting a friend on her deathbed.
This season brings so many beautiful things—beautiful songs, light, traditions new and old—but is it also a time to remember those who have passed on before us, as we wait until we me meet again…
There is radiance to a faithful farmer who is in contemplation of death. The rich soil of silence, prayer, and action blossoms a hundredfold as such a farmer reaps a harvest even as they grieve. It’s like a field of sunflowers in late August lifting their heads toward the sun in rows sown by patience and compassion.
I entered a friend's house to say good-bye and found myself sitting by the recliner at her feet, letting tears flow as she spoke, her head propped up by two pillows. While we talked, her husband, who is an amazing Episcopal priest, blessed us and the children and grandchildren with communion as he played a song about a simple life. Her daughter wiped her mouth with a sponge, joining me on the floor on the other side of her chair. The grandkids played with toys close by as her sister made sure that visitors were quiet and the kitchen was ready in case anyone could muster hunger between the waves of grief washing over the whole beloved family.
This wise woman filled with the inner light of love told me about three things she had learned from me, what she was grateful for, and then said that life is about learning to say hello and good-bye. She gave me a scarf and a pair of earrings she loved and I knew that this is what grace looks like in flesh and bone. Grace is tender and generous, not boastful or weighed down by the baggage of what might have been. It is quiet and manages a compassionate smile even as others weep. It is as beautiful as that late summer field of sunflowers. It is a moment that we cannot hold onto.
What unexpected, simple gifts of grace have been given to you?
It is so hard to witness the dying of a friend, especially one who has been a means of so much grace for so many people. Grace is more than mercy; it offers us comfort when we didn't even think we should ask. In grace there is no shame, only radiant love that so fills the space that we remember we are all one. At her feet I could feel the grief of kissing my mother good-bye twenty years ago, of a friend who had passed a few months earlier, of my sister’s death the year before, of all the tears cried in all the fields where people have buried the bones and ashes of those they hold dearest in this world, unable to imagine flowers blooming again in the fields where we learned we are dust. As l leaned in, l asked her for a blessing. She offered me the blessing she said her mother gave her. As we hugged and l felt the bones of her frail body, I knew that in my lifetime I would rarely be in the presence of a farmer who grew anything more beautiful or feel the strong sinews of one formed so completely of something holy as well as earthly. I whispered to her, “I hope you dive into it when the moment comes." “Me too,” she said. "Say a good word for us." "I'll try.”
l can‘t remember what else was said. I remember her husband walking me out and thinking how their love for one another was a seal upon their hearts and a crown upon their foreheads and that all the two of them do is manifest love around them because they are so full. That would be the last time I saw her, and as I pulled away I prayed she had a sense for the magnificent field of flowers, children, love, and compassion she has sown in the hearts and minds of so many. She is beautiful.
Where might God be calling you to give such a gift to another?