Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Death and loss

Death Stands Above Me

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

--Walter Savage Landor

Today I lost one of the best people I've ever known. My grandfather was 81, and he faced death as he faced life; without fear. Although he had lung cancer, and his final days found trouble breathing, Death was kind to him. Perhaps in some small way it was repaying him for the kindness and love that he showed others in his life.

He did not fear death for he did not fear life. I think there has to be some sort of correlation here! For if one lives life and all of its trials and tribulations without fear, then what does death have that it can hold over us?

The unknown?
The uncertainty?

No, as much as we think we know about death, we truly know very little. We believe a lot, but know next to nothing.

I believe that death whispered in my grandfathers ear, and his words were words of comfort. I'd like to believe that even as my grandfather's hand turned cold, he took death's warm and inviting hand and follow to where ever death might lead. What comes next is referred to as many things. Some may call it heaven and some may call it oblivion, but I call it the next step on his journey.

I imagine my grandfather telling death that he wasn't ready to leave all of us that he loved and cared for. Death however, is leading the way, telling him of how his children and grandchildren will live their lives. He will tell Papa of the impact that he had made on all of our lives, and how those ripples will carry on to our children and theirs.

My grandfather will be missed more than he will ever know, by more people than I will ever know. He has touched so many lives, and he lived his life showing me what it means to truly live and care for others.

In Memory of Hayden Robinson (1928 -2009)

Feel free to not only share your thoughts, but also your own stories!


  1. Justin, I am sorry you lost your Grandpa Hayden. I liked him, he was a remarkably funny guy, which is of course why it took me so long to realize you all were related.

    I know it is difficult to loose a grandfather you love. I lost both of mine a number of years back.

    My Granddaddy passed when I was 12 and my parents decided it was not the place of a twelve year old to watch their grandfather pass.

    I was oddly hurt by that and felt a little robbed until I saw the last moments of my Pa's life. It was in those moments I understood, and selfishly wished someone would have not let me see it.

    The Nursing staff made us all leave before the end, but those last moments were enough to challenge a number of my views on many things. I am not sure that my Pa passed peacefully. I know that even morphine did not have the ability to ease his suffering in the end. I can remember looking into his eyes and seeing the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty. It is still one of my most difficult memories.

    It appeared my Pa was fighting to the end, and if he was ever anything he was a fighter. I pray that death took him upon his journey and brought with it an end to the pain. I do not pretend to know what follows life, yet I know my Pa fought death, the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty in his last moments. If you had known my Pa you would know he could have passed in no other way.

    I still wonder if our life ends as we live it and I suppose that is both comforting and scary. In the sense that it would mean I would die aloof. However, it could act as a gift of sorts. We live our lives and whether we are aware of it or not it shapes the way we confront or accept death.

    Your grandfather Hayden as you say seems to have embraced death just as he embraced life. Such is a beautiful thing, and we should all be so lucky.

    I will be the first to admit that I fear death. I think we all do wether we choose to admit it or not. My justification of this of course comes from the fact that.... oh..... every religion bases death as the passing into a new life, which is a coping mechanism if I have ever seen one. We do not understand death so we create something to make us forget our on end, we refuse to believe life ends so we pretend it does not (and it may not what the hell do I know).

    I think the best of us can only embrace the life we were given and live it; while understanding that it will have an end. It sounds like your Grandpa Hayden did not just embrace life he also appears to have really lived it. I can respect that.

    I know this loss is hard Justin, and like you I do believe death is a journey. Like any good adventure we have no idea what is in store. All we can do is accept it (I am still working on that part).

    It sounds like your Grandpa embraced the journey that is both life and death, which is no easy feat.

    I wish you and your family well during this time, as always.

  2. Thanks Trace for your kind words and your own story. I don't think I've ever heard you mention the tale of losing your grandfather(s).

    What amazes me about these two stories and the many experiences of death I dealt with this summer as a hospital chaplain, is that our religion (Christianity), has confused "hope" with "fact".

    Christ came to give us hope. He spoke of the afterlife a decent bit, but it was always in the context of hope. Somewhere along the way our religion has made the abstract hope "fact". The Bible is ambiguous on what the afterlife looks like. It uses a lot of metaphorical and parabolic language, but through the years we've imagined pearly gates, mansions, and streets of gold.

    Yet as you have eluded to, and a part of what is going on in my head is that so many people with a faith of certainty, get close to their death and aren't quite as certain any more. The "facts" fall apart...but Christ didn't give us facts, he embedded hope!

    My grandfather didn't care about "the facts" of the afterlife, he just faced it as if were the natural next step. And it was! I know he had hope that there is something on the other side, but I think that had he relied on the "facts", fear would have ruled his final days.
    IDK, just some random thoughts.

    Do I believe in heaven? yes. But I believe that hinges on the HOPE that God knows what he's doing, and truly does love us is far more reassuring in times of fear than any of "the facts" that have been poured into my faith through my youth!

    Thanks again Trace!