The Funeral

“…I know mine own, mine own know me.
Ye, not the world, my face shall see;
My peace I leave with you, amen.”

For sixty years they cared for each other, these two children of the second World War. He, Latvian. She, Yugoslavian. He told stories of a boyhood of Russian occupation, of searching for crayfish in the frozen sniper-patrolled darkness to feed a starving family. He couldn’t bring himself to eat spinach anymore after living on it for years. He was called to minister to others, and he did it well, with intellect and emotion and humor and clear eyes.

She was elegant and lovely. Sparkling blue eyes, a perfect blonde, then gray french twist chignon, and small pearl earrings. She always smelled so good, had luminous skin, and was always happy to see us, interested in our lives and what made us laugh. She had a beautiful voice and sang like a professional, but without a trace of the ego. She loved music and dance and good cooking and the beauty in life. Always a laugh on her lips and a hug in her arms.

They raised two children; quiet, intellectual, their daughter a dancer who transcended the small town she grew up in to dance and then to teach others to dance.  I thought her calm and graceful, with slavic cheekbones and straight blonde hair I coveted.  I was too in awe to talk to her, she was so perfect.  Her name, Marina, so beautiful, we named our sweetest most beloved dog with the liquid brown eyes after her.

He retired, after a lifetime of serving others, and God, but his work wasn’t finished.  Soon, slowly, day by day, she faded into the streams of the past muddied with the present. Alzheimer’s stole her away, fluidly, gradually, inexorably. He cared for her and bore the burden as if it were no burden at all. Just part of a marriage whose vows of in sickness and in health were indeed sacred. After ten long years of moving farther and farther away from them and down into herself, she died.

The day of the funeral was bitterly cold. Snow and ice making treacherous walking for the gathering of elderly friends who made their way down into the cemetery. We arrived first, surer of our footing, and I looked back. The sky was sharply clear and deep blue. The wind roared like a thing alive through the towering pine trees topping the frozen hillside. He carried her ashes himself in the polished wooden box on this last journey, their daughter holding his arm, strengthening and strengthened, the final loving act of a deep devotion. This woman from the Old World, who married a Latvian man, was given her rest on this crystalline afternoon, while the wind howled and tore at our coats. Prayers as talismans, offered for glorious deliverance from her failing mind, were blown out of our mouths and down the hill as the wind overcame all. Their daughter gently wiped the tears running down her father’s face, then wiped her own, and together they walked back up the hill.

In loving memory of Milena Gobins.

Funeral 1“Built On A Rock” by Ludvig M. Lindeman and Nikolai F. S. Grundvig, Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America, ©1958

Her Heart

A dear friend just endured open heart surgery.  Her heart.  Opened.  Now she has always lived a life with an open heart, loving and laughing and giving to others, but this was different and frightening.  Her heart truly opened and laid bare in a way that it should never be.  Open to the bright hot lights of the operating room and a surgeon’s eyes and hands.  Did the secrets that everyone holds in their heart, that vessel of the soul, fly away at that first cut or when the light hit them?  Or did they burrow deeper, hiding in the dark they could still find?  Her sweet pink happy secrets, frightened and blushing.  Her hidden angry secrets buzzing around and dissipating in the sudden hot light.   Her burnished marble lifetime treasures disturbed and rattled.

She says she felt her mother and her father, both passed on, helping her and holding her and perhaps in opening her heart, there was a gap bridged that few are privileged to feel.  Now, in her recovery, she loses time.  Lapses of memory that shake her composure.  It is a normal result of the trauma, they say.  A normal consequence of the pain medications, of the time spent in Intensive Care.  Perhaps it is more.  Perhaps as her heart heals, that bridge to the ether is no longer necessary.  As her heart heals, that temporary bridge is vaporizing and healing too.  The river of love from friends and family, poured out to a hospital in Boston, and to a school in Massachusetts and to Seattle, to soothe her children, has taken over like snowmelt and watered the new soil and washed it smooth and carried her beyond that elemental link.

She says she can feel her heart beating in a new way, and I see her husband put his hand on her back while she sleeps at home to feel it beating hard and strong for the first time ever.  Beating with life and gratitude.  Beating hard and strong in connection to the past and most certainly to the future.