the outpouring breaches the surface and
A jagged ache and throbbing beneath, under-internal, that forces the tiny distresses violently to their birth then to a sudden, dry death. Erupted exposure, then suffocated. Tears are not just drops that fly from ducts and slide through eyelashes toward their doom, caught away by the loving hands of family. First, I feel them like long, vibrating, lightening fingers–reaching electric through my neck, the plates of my skull, my finger nails. Swimming through my body before they arrive to–visible. An ominous churning in the foundation before breaking. A jolt and a burning. A perpetual buzzing and clenching and twisting and tension through dense muscle fiber. An agonizing and uncontrollable constriction and contracting of the body.
These buzzing and tingling sensations interrupt the surreal state. Looking out of my eyes, like through smudgy, dirty windows, it looks like hazy, looks like clouded. But these exposures and fingers tell me that the pain is very much actual and absolute and indisputable. And they also tell me that I’m not outside it, but whirling within it. Like a knife burying slowly, steady into the chest and the consciousness of pain comes on, not immediately as one would think, but several seconds later, delayed. A live-streamed reality where the audio comes shortly behind and never quite matches the physical motion of parted lips. A week later I will find myself in urgent care and immediate bed rest, the violence of grief spasming my muscles uncontrollably.
But somehow I stand on a Rock in the midst of the whirling storm around me.
As I weep, my grandmother asks if I am mad at her, and I embrace her frame and breath in her talcum powder, this strong woman caring for her dearest companion. No grandma, I will miss him. And I love you.
Strong, steadfast men sit uncovered. They grip hope and they own it in sadness, and I see them suck in their breath and hold it and let it out in exhale and wipe their eyes, integrity and vulnerability mashed together. They weep openly, with soul-tearing cadence. These sons, these grandsons. My own father sits in a chair, his head in his hand as his tears flow at the passing of a generation, a heritage. Then quietly, quietly. They are like faint echoes and inflection. A sweet, vibrating hymn. A pulse and a lilt. Tears. A psalm-song plays in these bodies surrounded.
His aged, broken, and paralyzed body lay. The doctors let us sneak our large family into his room against hospital rules, because they have never seen such a thing. All of us, every one, stand in his room and sing Great is Thy Faithfulness. I say goodnight to my grandfather in a whisper close to his cheek and ear as I hold his hand, promising to come again tomorrow, and he squeezes my hand. And my grandmother prayed for mercy under a dark sky and moon from God that he would not suffer, and He heard and He answered. On an August Sunday morning he slipped from here into a newness, a glory-life built, in a whole body, waiting for all of us who are here still, restless but trying to be patient. A very loved, compassionate soul, leaving a void that aches down low and hollows thunderous in hearts that call him their own.
When I witness men cry I come undone; needles of reality become and they center into my flesh, and sorrow mingled with joy arrive and puncture. When I witness men cry, my own tears thrust my whole body to attention.
I watched him use his hand to wipe his own tears mere days before, as men flew on airplanes and drove in cars to come to him and pray with him. I stood and watched as a man slowly passed from this life into the next over days. Slowly, so slowly, but terribly fast. Pain mixed with grief and rest. A tear, and a hard squeeze of the good hand, and my uncle asking his Dad if he could see angels coming, a paralyzed half-smile, and an I-love-you-whisper, and a “wow” from his lips as he looked upward, and his children on his shoulder, my aunt lying in the bed next to her Daddy in the dark and stroking his face the first night she came, and forehead to forehead with his soulmate wife, and a–gone. It will be a long time before I see him again. That is why men cry. For the time between the goodbye and the welcoming, comfort of love-embrace is hopeful but lonely.
In an instant, bricks can crash, and crack, and smash, and sound suddenly lurches to meet the live-streamed motions and the knife blade in the chest is percieved–a rupturing, a weighted severance shouts with deafening shrill, in garish finality. My mind rummages frantically to memorize in haste, to replay, replay replay until it is automatic: his familiar, gentle voice, his soft limp and gait, his eyes filled with love and compassion, his hands clasped over mine, his curved down smile, the tiny beat and inflection of his laugh, his fresh cologne smell, and his devoted presence, before I forget them.
This tearing removal, this harsh division from a self so loved, is a testament, a confirmation. A terrible glimpse into the Father and Son cut-severed during bodily death, before final Life. An arduous, but humble willing— this tearing apart hurts and burns and scars forever like a branding, and frees.
This is a death that must take place. A death that leads to life. To real. A death that will come for us all and only One Way to cross over into.
Funeral roses actually smell sweet, and fragrant. An unusually soft and velvety comfort. We pull them from the casket and rub them on our cheeks and they hold and melt and absorb the tears, these soul aches, into their death and we hang the stem and petal to dry and remember.
In front of others who come to witness our family tenderly lay him to earth, my brother says that when the preacher could no longer speak, God mercifully took him. My girls’ stifled sobs shrill and pierce the quiet church, and my cousins sing hymns of resurrection as we say goodbye.
As if through a mirror dimly, faces smudge on frosted glass. And I smell him when I walk into my grandparent’s house, mingled with the smell of my grandma, because he really was there once, and now he is not. A veil that cannot be crossed until it is our turn, but I can see him turning and looking, his familiar blue eyes and his smile that turns downward and I know he would say:
The one that you loved, cherished, embraced; the one you now weep for, ache for, and recognize; that feeling, a void deep down, for the man that you knew to be compassionate, slow to anger, forgiving, loving, steadfast, faithful, true….it was not me! But it was Him. It was my Jesus whom you ache for. It is what he told us while he was even still with us. Not I, but Him.
And this is the legacy of my Grandfather….that God is real, and greatly to be praised.