Slice of Community Life and Death

3435 3435_ () 3435 3435 My friend Anna was giving me a hard time the other day about how I have put off answering some of your questions.

“You have GOT to answer them,” she said. She was smiling when she said it, she wasn’t being bossy or anything. But she’s right, I need to answer. (I will! I promise!)

In my defense, we had a funeral early this week for our dear Uncle Dennis, my neighbor for so many years, the patriarch of that amazing family who means so much to my own family. That in itself could be a good four or five posts and I’m trying to figure out how to distill it all down to the heart of what I want to say. But (before I move on for now) I will say this: we know how to do death around here, y’all. And I realize how totally creepy that sounds.

What I told Anna, and we were actually discussing this right after the burial, is that the cold hard facts are so much harder to write than just sharing. So please bear with me and give me time. I want to share with you the best way I can, the way that paints the picture and reveals the spirit of this life, not just the FAQ’s.

So back to the funeral.

Honestly, I think you don’t really know how well you share life with others until you let people in to see It All. The good and the bad. The Nasty Bits, as Anthony Bourdain says. And while I wouldn’t call death ugly or nasty (though I know it can be), it’s obviously not the fun, happy time that say, a new baby is. Or a wedding reception. Sharing the sacred season of death with those around you is something quite beautiful. But it takes a special kind of grace, a special kind of relationship and depth.

We watched Uncle Dennis suffer for three weeks, this after several years of deteriorating health. In those final days, people (us, our community) were invited to come over and say goodbye. I know it was hard for his family to see their dad suffer, but I’m amazed at God’s economy. Here was one of the leaders of our community, someone who poured his heart and soul into this work, and we all had the opportunity to say goodbye to this man who was influential to anyone called to life here. People drifted in and out of that house over the course of those weeks, and went into that room. They bent down and kissed his face and rubbed his hand and said “thank you for this life you were willing to pioneer.”

For me personally, I thought about living next door to this family for so many years. I thought about their friendship to my parents, what it meant to my family to share life so deeply with another family — a family who could not be more different from us. At least, I think so. I can’t really say, because I feel so connected to them. But I think about that friendship between my parents and the McBride’s and how I probably can’t appreciate all it meant to my family — and vice verse — to have the influence of such good people in our life. For me, I think about the friendships Paul and I have, the support we have with other couples whom we can be totally honest with (“today? Not a good day.” and “NFP? Not For Wimps.”) and how it builds us up to have people who encourage us to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.

That’s what this family has meant to us, what they continue to mean to us. And the beauty is that the personalities are all so different, it has helped us grow and blossom in ways we can’t even fully comprehend. My brother Josh (two years younger than me) was telling me today that he wants to write a few notes to some of the kids, to tell them how much he loves them. And the more he got to thinking, he really couldn’t come to a stopping point in which of those ten children he considers to be “lesser friends” than the others.

Today my parents celebrate 43 years of marriage (Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!) and they are so solid because of being surrounded by people like the McBride’s. People who always encouraged them to do the right thing, who never pretended it was perfect but who always agreed perfection in Jesus was a goal worth striving for.

One part of this journey was watching him suffer. Sharing that with his family — how generous of them. How easy it would have been for them to say “enough! No one else allowed! This is OUR time.” And they certainly had plenty of time as a family, hours of private time together. They were not robbed of that. But still, they opened their home — literally — and said, “come in. Say goodbye to our beloved.”

I continue to be inspired by their generosity.

The night Uncle Dennis died, the funeral home had been called. People had gathered at the house — neighbors and friends, a wide range of ages. The men from the funeral home came for Uncle Dennis, for his body, to go get him ready to come back home a day later for the most wonderful wake right there in his home, right in his front room filled with those same neighbors filing in and out, singing and praying (and drinking beer).

The man from the funeral home loaded Uncle Dennis into the vehicle and that whole group of people, young and old, men and women and children, they all stood there on the deck that overlooks the driveway. They stood there and watched the car pull out and they sang to him. They sent him off by waving and extending their hands and telling him just how much we love him. A whole big group of people right there at his home singing to him as he left our little neighborhood.

This is my reality. This is the life I live. It overwhelms me with its goodness. 3435″

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Comments

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. Not only for the loss of Mr. McBride, but for the beautiful testimony of his life, and how his family opened their home to those who wanted to wish him well and send him off in love to the next leg of his journey. Thank you for sharing. I know it must have been tough for you.

  2. Rachel, your community and family are so special. I only wish we could all live so, so, so, what is the right word? Maybe so generously, so honestly. As much as I appreciate my neighbors, most of us are busy with our lives and home-life that we rarely even see each other.

    Please keep letting us in; I feel inspired and privileged and even a little envious. But mostly, your stories make me want to be better (naughty bits and all!).

  3. allison gaskins says:

    thank you Rachel for delving into this with all of us. It’s fragile and real…and extraordinary. That’s how I want to go out, with all my loved ones waving my empty frame down the street while my full spirit rejoices. xo

  4. You made me cry. This so reminds me of an influential family in my life that I grew up next door to. At the end of every family member’s wedding reception, the entire extended family would gather around the new couple’s car as they got ready to drive off and serenade them with “Let me call you ‘Sweetheart'”. (Actually, I know of a couple big families that have this tradition). Just this past December, their patriarch (my “uncle) passed away after a lengthy illness. As it was a very mild winter for us, the family opted to have the post-funeral Mass prayers said at the graveside, instead of the indoor chapel. As the entire family (wife, kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids) followed his casket from the hearse to the gravesite, they all sang, “Let me call you ‘Sweetheart'”. Achingly beautiful. That’s how it should be.

  5. Tears flowing; how beautiful. In contrast, a few years ago our gentleman neighbor was sick for awhile, and then passed away one night. Hardly anyone visited, (including me- we didn’t know them more then waving hello, and I didn’t want to “intrude”) and the ambulance came in the early morning hours to carry him away. No one came outside, I think few even noticed. So sad, and so much the way it is in our country. You are blessed to have what you have there. Please continue to share you experience of community with us. It’s a wonderful reminder of how I think God intends us to live; aware of others around us, reaching out, sharing our lives with each other, helping, caring, loving.
    (I’d love to know if you all use your garages to park your cars? We park in our drive as garage is a workshop for my hubby, but all the neighbors drive in garage, close the door, and get “swallowed up” into their homes. Hardly see them at all! My kids, husb. and I play outside alot together, playing catch, volleyball, etc, but we feel like the noisy neighbors, as very seldom does anyone come outside to play!)

  6. Ecce Quam Bonam says:

    It was a very special time, even by our standards. Dennis’ whole life was focused on building the Kingdom of God, person by person, heart by heart, day by day. Forty years of that, all the while adding more and more people who want to do the same thing, has accomplished just that: we live in the Kingdom of God, though still imperfectly rendered in time and space; and sometimes, because of our surpassing love for each other, we get to experience Heaven.

  7. Uncle Dennis sounds like an amazingly special person- God rest his soul. His wake sounds very like our wakes, here in Ireland. The house becomes a hive of activity with people calling, cooking supporting the family. Stories are told about the person’s life, we laugh and cry, and eat and drink tea and often have a wee drop to drink too. They go into the room where the body is laid to say goodbye and to pray. Rosaries are said. When the body leaves the house to go to the church for the last time for the funeral, it is carried by the men in the family up the road before going into the hearse – often there’s too many so they take turns ‘doing a lift’. Everyone else walks behind. Growing up with such deep and established traditions means we sometimes take them for granted – as I get older I realize how important and comforting they are.

  8. Thank you for sharing. What a lovely family they must be; I aspire to that grace & generosity…

  9. That brought me to tears. Don’t fret about “what” to write. It’s posts like these that give us a glimpse of the life you lead there. Just write from your heart like you just did, and keep it coming.

  10. Momof3boysandprayingformore says:

    I want to be your neighbor! God bless the families in your beautiful community. Life as it should be.

  11. Hi there
    I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award
    http://pulchradoctrina.wordpress.com/versatile-blogger-award/the-sunshine-award/
    Blessings!
    Ruth

  12. Maria in California says:

    Thank you so much for sharing so beautifully about your life in community! It speaks to my soul about a life as it should be among members of God’s Kingdom. If only every baptized believer could read about this, open themselves to be vulnerable with each other, and allow the Holy Spirit to form these types of communities in all of our churches. So sorry for your loss and praying for a renewal and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in honor of Dennis and our Great God!