"Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth." "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." - Morrie Schwartz, from Tuesdays with Morrie
Death doesn't happen to one person alone. Death is experienced by those who must let go of their loved ones. When you lose someone special, nothing seems to be the same as it was. New perspectives. Unfamiliar emotions. Introspection.
When you've lost someone special, the trees in the yard seem to cast deeper shadows. The white lilacs, blooming full for the first time in all the years since they were planted, thrust their dizzying perfume to stormy winds, smelling of yesterday's laughter. The brilliant sky brashly dares to mock your grief.
Each new dawn repeats the same hollow message"¦when you've lost someone special. Fields of crops have been flooded this spring, bridges closed, and entire towns wiped out. Families no longer have homes. How can one in personal mourning find tears to spare?
Fledgling robins and blackbirds and bunnies hop all over the yard. Startled by one another, indoor occupants pause to chuckle at the outdoor dwellers in their comical discoveries of "home." Something so common seems to invoke outbursts of laughter at most unseemly times, a release of sorrow.
The loss is not the greater thing - the gain holds life together as one moves on with their stash of precious memories. We humans are the emotional species, bent to melodramatics. We fight against the seasons and cycles that every living organism must fulfill. Every second of every day, fate eases the final breath from a loved one somewhere - everywhere. In these traumatic and sad times mourners find comfort in simple, unexpected things.
Recently, my family and I lost someone special. Uncle Hilbert Wollin, at 94, received his gift of new life on June 12th at 9 p.m. As I held his pulsing hand for the final time, these words came to me: "See, I make all things new."
Because we momentarily fall apart at such a loss, when we feel an unspeakable sadness, and as we struggle to accept tomorrow without our loved one with us, something else can occur, something uplifting.
The most poignant book I go back to frequently is like a bible on how to die richly. Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays with Morrie" is a masterpiece, "an old man, a young man, and life's greatest lesson."
Morrie speaks as Mitch writes, "You live on - in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here." "Death ends a life, not a relationship."
We really don't experience the world fully, because we're half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do." "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live," Morrie advises.
Yesterday, my sister Mary, Hilbert's sister Alma, who was a lifelong housemate, and I went through photo albums and boxes of old pictures from down through the generations. At times too numerous to recollect, we remarked, "Oh, look!" "Remember this!" "How good looking he was!" "Yeah, that's Hib!"
Uncle Hilbert kept peanuts by the deck door for his pets. Squirrels regularly hopped up to the door and lifted their front feet against the glass to peer in. They took peanuts from his fingers, which delighted him.
As we put together two large collages of photographs for his memorial service, we realized that our memories of this gentle, witty, Christian man have been chiseled in our hearts and minds forever.
Pat and I live just up the street from Wollin's apartment at Speltz Homes. Today, as I went out to my white lilac bushes to pick a final bouquet, I saw peanut shells among the stones there. This time my laughter was filled with tears. Even the squirrels have left their mementos. Who could top that!
Janet Burns has been roaming the back roads of Winona County for years! She can be reached at