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Friday, November 26, 2010

A Graveside Visit

'Divine Mercy' as drawn by Theodore G. Donahue

Yesterday, on what would have been Theodore's 18th birthday, we visited his grave. It was cold and windy, so we did not stay there long, but we did say a few prayers and spent some time there in silence.

Someone had already put some plastic flowers at the site.

As is usual, the other children asked me when we were going to get a marker for Theodore's grave. I couldn't answer them, because I don't even know when I shall get it done. I still don't know what I could write on a gravestone which would summarize the life of one so dear to me. How could one or two lines describe someone whose absence has left such a hole in our hearts and in our lives?

Nearly 16 years ago, on December 1, 1994, three of my friends and colleagues were killed in a helicopter crash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At that time, I had compared the deaths of my friends with that of a large stone dropped into a pond. Initially, the passing of the stone leaves a void - but almost immediately the water rushes back in, covering up the defect. Ripples spread out from the point of impact, leaving the surface of the pond more or less unsettled, depending on how close one was to the epicenter. In the aftermath of this crash, new pilots, doctors and nurses joined the group and took up the work. We kept on flying. For me, the stone in the pond seemed to be a pretty neat metaphor for death and survival.

I was wrong.

For those closest to the deceased, that hole, that void, never fills up again. After nearly three years since Theodore's death, his absence is like a pain in my side which will never go away. Every head count I make - and it is very important to count heads when you have such a large family - comes up one person, one name, short of what my obsessive/compulsive brain is expecting. Every time I recognize this discrepancy, I have to remind myself that the count is off by one because one of my children is dead. In some circles, this process is known as 'reconciliation,' where the reason for the incorrect count is resolved. In my case, it is hard to reconcile myself to this fact.

Try putting that on a gravestone.

While thinking about this and freezing in the wind , a car pulled up behind ours, and a man got out. He had flowers - we forgot to bring some - which he carried to a nearby grave. He also stood there for a while, with his back turned away from us to keep the wind out of his face. As I watched him, I considered how blessed I was to be here with my loving wife, my eight living sons and four daughters, and how I should rejoice to be so blessed by God. Carolyn had the same thoughts as she gazed upon the solitary man, with one additional thought: one day it would be just one of us coming here to see Theodore's grave.

1 comment:

Mac McLernon said...

Yes, one day it will be just one of you coming to visit Theodore's grave - because the other will actually be with Theodore...

God bless you in your loss.

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
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Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

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