My mother’s voice was filled with emotion as she spoke down the crackling line. Though she was barely audible, her words are etched into my memory forever: “Prepare for a terrible shock. Sit down?”
The blackest possible scenarios exploded through my brain. Except this one. “Poor Oliver had a heart attack this morning and died in Bertie’s shed. The ambulance came and took him away. Can you come home?”
The foundations that I thought firmly beneath my feet were crumbling.
Oliver was my best friend. My neighbor next door. My cousin. My soulmate. I was told that from a certain angle we could be mistaken for twins. He was the brother I never had.
The finality of his death hit him with brutal force. From then on I had to think of him in the past tense. I was preparing for the saddest moment of my life when I arrived at the corpse’s house. It was a strange experience walking through the door.
I wanted to turn back, but something inside me made me go on. I didn’t expect to see his body in the living room. I had tried to prepare for this moment. But when the naked reality of his body was just a few feet away from me, it was extremely scary. I went to his family to comfort them – but it was they who comforted me.
My mind was buzzing with questions. Oliver was only 33. I couldn’t understand why his sparkling eyes had to lose their sight. Not even why his articulate voice had to betray her language. Justice should not allow such innocent wealth to be sacrificed.
Well-meaning sympathizers trotted out reassuring phrases: “It is God’s holy will.” I wished that God had never been invented. Another said: “It’s lucky for him. There’s something beautiful about a young death.” Happy? Beautiful? I wanted to yell at such a perversion of language. But it was neither the time nor the place. Even if I had the energy.
I’m not sure why, but I felt compelled to touch his forehead. The cold of death repelled me and I immediately withdrew my hand. For the first time I discovered tears that tasted like salt.
On the third day Oliver was buried. His funeral was very moving. The grief, although very personal, was generously shared. As always, the local community has responded in a great way during difficult times.
Everyone gathered. The house was crowded with relatives and neighbors, all with sad faces. You had good reason to be in this court of human suffering.
The next hour or so is total haze like I’ve lost a piece of my life.
The memory of the funeral is gone. In this state, the sands of time move slowly. A strange paralysis came over me.
The cemetery is on an exposed hill. “It must be the coldest place in Ireland,” a stranger said to me. My grandfather, my surrogate father after my real daddy died when I was only five, is buried almost next to Oliver’s grave.
Unlike Oliver, the swirling tide of death had freed him from the nightmare of a protracted illness. He’s the spirit I carry around inside me. It comforts me to think that the two most important men in my life are almost next to each other. For a moment I longed to be with them both – but my time had not yet come.
Oliver was buried in a strict ceremony. His coffin was lowered into the ground and then wrapped in a blanket of hay. “The finest,” he would have said. Tradition in rural Roscommon dictated that the nearest neighbors, at the request of the bereaved, dig the grave and later fill the clay over the coffin, with a sense of privilege and decency. The frozen clay seemed to resist the willing shovels. There was a finality about the process in tap-tap-tap as the back of the spade formed the remaining mound of fresh clay. What really crucified me, however, was the sound of clods of earth smashing onto the coffin. Now we will be friends in two different worlds forever.
I waited until the mourners left to be alone with him for a last moment. I prayed to buy him some shares in the hereafter.
Now I know why “goodbye” is the most painful word in the English language. Farewell is not a sweet sorrow.
It is hope that sustains us. Saint Augustine wrote: “Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage.”
Anger comes when we are hurt after a death in the family. We need courage if we are to take the practical steps necessary to change the situation. But how are we supposed to do that without making existing problems worse or creating new ones?
Our age is obsessed with youth. So many people seem petrified from aging let alone dying. We need a new culture of dealing with the reality of death. The Christian tradition offers many insights into this debate. Death is not the end of the story, but another stage in the soul’s journey, an entrance into the vast life that stretches out endlessly. As Christians, we should be at the forefront of developing this culture of death, professing to believe that eternal life in which we pray for resurrection has long since begun.
Suffering, especially after the death of a loved one, often appears as an unanswerable riddle to those who believe in the Christian God, and it often angers us.
Yet Christians also believe that God is present in our suffering, hanging on the cross of contradiction, and that life flows from this dark mystery.
On Good Friday, Jesus reached into the depths of sorrow as this Godman experienced the physical torment and spiritual humiliation that so many people experience today. It was as if he was intentionally invading the most painful dimensions of being human.
We must find the crucifixion and resurrection within ourselves.
While the sense of loss at Oliver’s death will always reverberate in my heart, I must find a way to move on without forgetting it. We are left with many troubling problems. Good Friday is a time when we remember in a special way those we have loved and lost.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/ill-never-forget-the-day-i-lost-my-soulmate-the-foundations-under-my-feet-crumbled-41555253.html I will never forget the day I lost my soulmate, the foundation crumbled beneath my feet