Going to Grandpa and Grandma’s house has become more and more difficult the past few years. It’s not because of the 12 hour drive “over the river and through the woods,” the commitment of time, or the workout involved in helping around the house once we get there. In fact, the large cabin on a lake in the backwoods of Wisconsin would be a dream destination if we didn’t have to see, touch, and smell death every visit.
Way to start a blog, eh? (I’m narrating from an icy tree branch here; what do you expect?[see pic above]) Allow me to preface by saying I’ve talked a lot about life here and hold strongly to the ideal that this is what we’re supposed to be reaching for. Every thought, action, and waking dream needs to be full of hope and new beginnings every second of every day. But the fact of life is that we all have to deal with death sometime.
My Grandma had her first stroke nearly 20 years ago and has had many more since then. Grandpa and my mom’s oldest sister continue to care for her at home; this now includes a feeding tube they installed a year ago. In many ways, it’s become like a five-year viewing. Most people pay their respects in a single visit to a funeral home; we’ve been doing it annually for more than half a decade. Depressing? Yes. It becomes increasingly difficult each year.
This week’s visit to help my grandpa and Aunt out here in Wisconsin has been no exception. However, the day before we made the trip, my little brother and I (“little” being a misnomer, mind you; he’s nearly 6 ft now. sheesh!) went to youth group the evening before we had to leave. It was truly amazing; regrets and combating negativity were the discussion topics that night. Philippians 4:8 came up (whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, “think about these things”). Because LIFE is all about “forgetting what’s behind and straining toward what’s ahead” (Philippians 3:13). It was a fantastic reminder for Bryson and me before we arrived in Wisconsin-below-freezing. We knew what we’d be facing; we knew what we’d see, feel, and smell. We remember the noble, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy qualities of who our grandma was and, at this point we have, over a very long period of time, let go of what’s left. You could probably sum up the philosophy by telling me how much faster a person can run forward if they don’t look back.
It sounds easy on paper but letting go is hard. Stopping in grief-stricken shock, cringing, and clinging to what physically remains of someone or something we value is very human I think. Maybe we have a dream or an idea, person, or lifestyle that’s primarily behind us now, except for shell-like representations; they’re not full of the spirit, activities, or life that they used to be but we go back (or look back) over and over again, missing and/or longing for the warmth, love, or other positive feelings we had.
I’ve heard so many people say, “my high school years were the best years of my life” or “I’ll never have anything like I had in college” or “I just wish I was a kid again.” It’s true that life comes in phases. With the death of every old phase, there’s change and growth; each new phase has equal or greater potential to be the best years of our lives, if we can keep from clinging to and feeding the dead body in the living room.
As my little brother and I have gone on long, cold hikes through the oceans of clean, white fluff around here, we can’t help thinking about all that we’re walking over. We even walked on frozen water this week and followed tracks we found in the snow (moose? maybe). Yes, winter is intense and destroys a lot of life but the illustration of the seasons is immense! Whether it’s the death of a phase or a life, we can still find things to appreciate and, above all, no matter how cold it is, we always enjoy the hope and certainty that spring is coming soon. No looking back. There are always reasons to live fully in the present, straining ahead to whatever’s next.