Every Day a Little Death

Ever since the song was mentioned at a meeting, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head: Every Day a Little Death from Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical A Little Night Music. Maybe it’s because I listened to a lot of music in my head on Halloween night as the time changed but my body rhythms didn’t. Perhaps it was the poignancy of All Saints Sunday as congregations all around the world remembered and celebrated the lives of their saints who died over the past year. It could just be the fall, a time of stripping bare, of letting go, of accepting the changing seasons of life. Or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of officiating at many funerals and graveside services in October.
Every day a little death.

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It was a rainy, dreary day, exactly five years since Cindi died. Her son and daughter-in-law, two grandsons and the other grandma stood with me under an awning over the site of the burial of Cindi’s cremains. “It seems like just yesterday,” her son said. Cindi died far too soon, just sixteen months after a diagnosis of ALS.

Her family was dressed in their Sunday best at the graveside, honoring Cindi as they brought closure to her journey. What love surrounded the box containing the cremains, ashes that symbolized the beauty yet fragility of Cindi’s life and all human life. “In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Each one shared a few words about how Cindi’s witness made a difference in their life. Her pot roast, her smile, how the grandsons looked forward to spending every Monday with Cindi, the way she was the life of the party, her determination as a single mother, the times spent up north at the family log cabin. It all came down to love.

Cindi’s son and two grandsons, one in middle school and one in high school, gently lowered the box with the ashes into the grave and shoveled the dirt back in the hole. They placed flowers over the grave, and we sang Cindi’s favorite hymn, “Here I am, Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, where you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” Then we departed, taking Cindi’s legacy with us back into the world.
Every day a little death… and life.

She was in perfect health. Then, all of a sudden Sharon developed pancreatitis, which attacked her entire body. She spent five months in intensive care, battling one complication after another, with her sister and family by her side urging her to keep fighting.

Five months later, doctors said there was nothing more they could do. As her sister and brother-in-law shared the news with her, Sharon, unable to talk or move, could still feel. As tears rolled down her cheeks, I gently wiped them away. How unfair is this?

“The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) We prayed for peace and thanked God for the grace and care shown by each one of Sharon’s caregivers
Every day a little death… and life.

Dwight and his wife were on the trip of a lifetime, driving from one National Park to another in their camper, Dwight taking hundreds of pictures. Then, in a moment, everything changed as Dwight, a United Methodist pastor for twelve years, died tragically, a rich and full life cut short. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)

At his memorial service we celebrated the amazing witness of Dwight’s life, including his advocacy for diversity and inclusiveness, a love of learning and adventure and his desire for people of all ethnicities, religions and countries to live together in peace and unity. Then we renewed our commitment to live out our own call and carry on his legacy.
Every day a little death… and life.

Bev’s son called, saying that his mother had been in Hospice care for a long time and was not responsive but was still hanging on. He asked if I could visit Bev and assure her that her family was ready to let her go and that her husband and other loved ones were waiting for her in heaven.

I sat beside Bev and held her hand. I walked around her room looking at all the pictures of her family, imagining the beauty of her life. I read scripture, prayed and then invited Bev to relax into the arms of God. She died early the next morning. At the casket, her sons wept tears of deep, deep love for a mother who had set them free to become who God created them to be and had now been set free herself.
Every day a little death… and life.

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On September 30 Kelly Gissendaner, age 47, died. She was the only woman in Georgia on death row and the first woman to be put to death in Georgia in seventy years. After her conviction for conspiring with her lover to kill her husband, Kelly had a spiritual transformation in prison and was a model inmate.

Denied repeated requests for clemency by her family, Pope Francis, a United Methodist bishop and many others, Kelly sobbed as she expressed love for her children and apologized to Douglas Gissendaner’s family, saying she hoped they can find some peace and happiness. Kelly also addressed her lawyer, Susan Casey, who was among the witnesses. “I just want to say God bless you all and I love you, Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace.” Which is exactly what she did.
Every day a little death… and life.

In her 2015 book Small Victories; Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott tells about a friend she met twenty years ago who went through round after round of treatment for leukemia. Finally, there was no hope left, so Carol decided to throw a party for several hundred friends who had helped her along the way. She wore a red velvet dress and was the life of the party.

Lamott writes, “Some people seemed stricken, uncomfortable at having been invited to come say good-bye, as if this were very bad manners… But mostly people seemed to stretch enough to be able to open up to the fearful thought that Carol would probably die pretty soon. In all of this shadow, she was glowing, giving off softness.”
Every day a little death… and life.

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How is God calling you to live your one precious life? Never doubt the importance of what you do, for God calls you to this time and place to be a living example of the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. Today is all we have. Just today.

Is today all you want it to be? Is today filled with love and laughter? Have you found peace with your past so that you can live fully in the present? What do you need to let go of? What deaths do you need to experience in order to fully live? Today is all we have.

Prayer for Autumn
Lord of the seasons,
there is a time for dying
and a time for new birth;
a time to speak
and a time to keep quiet.
Help us discern your will for us now.
Lord of autumn leaves and warm berries,
help us to let go gracefully
and to rejoice in the color and fruitfulness of this moment.
Wrap us in the shawl of eternity
and teach us to await with wonder
the new shoots of your love.
Mary Hanrahan

For all the saints. Every day a little death… and life.

Blessings,
Laurie

5 thoughts on “Every Day a Little Death

  1. What wonderful examples helping us to explore remembering the loss of someone we were not ready to lose. The circumstances were all different, but the ache is not. Your words will help us prepare for an inevitable death. Your writing is definitely inspiring. Thank you, Laurie.

  2. Sunday, we celebrated All Saints Day at Cedar Springs UMC. The service was inspiring, with lighting candles in remembrance of those loved ones who have gone before us.. Thank you Laurie (as always) for your inspiring words.

  3. Amen and Amen,
    Your words are beautiful to an 80 yr. old who has experienced the loss of many loved ones. Your last two paragraphs and the Prayer are particularly meaningful and lovely.
    Thank you and God Bless.

    Shirley Klipfel

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