Our neighbors go all out decorating their houses and yards with Halloween paraphernalia. Dancing skeletons, ghouls, and ghosts surround us with scary and even humorous signs of death this time of year. With the encroaching dark and falling leaves, I find it difficult not to think about the rapid passing of time and the inevitable passing of loved ones. All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve should be a time of remembrance of those we’ve loved and lost, but also a time of celebration that for the Christian, death is not the end, only a door to a new heavenly dimension. We grieve the loss of our loved ones, but share the hope that we will be with them again forever.
This All Saint’s Eve, I’ve had more loved ones to grieve. After our nephew Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke died in Afghanistan in August 2012, we attended funerals almost weekly through that fall: sons and parents of dear friends, and my husband’s co-laborer and mentor. To quote the Bard, “Here was a royal fellowship of death.” The grief over my nephew still springs on me at unexpected times. I’ll see his picture on my husband’s screensaver, I’ll sing one of his favorite worship songs, I’ll hear of another Marine who has laid down his life—then wham, the tears begin pricking the back of my eyes. And now, with displays of death everywhere, the loss looms persistently. But then I remember to celebrate All Saints’ Eve—not Halloween—and all those dear ones who are just beyond the door. I celebrate Life not death.
Last November, on the morning that we were to bury my friend’s son, I awoke with a poem on my heart. I am sharing that poem and its explanation here. Perhaps it will bring a measure of comfort to others, who are also bewildered by grief, having lost loved ones too soon.
A poem on grief (11/9/12)
Today my friend buried her first-born son. This should not be so. In the past few months we have attended five funerals; my husband Bill has officiated for four of them, two for young men, too young to die. One of whom was our nephew Ryan Jeschke, killed in Afghanistan in August. Although we are comforted by the knowledge that through faith in Jesus Christ, we will one day be reunited with these loved ones in heaven, we still must walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.” We do not grieve as those without hope; nevertheless, we do grieve deeply and daily. I have been struck by the surreal experience of grieving while “life goes on.” Hardly original, this idea, I’m sure, has been explored many times—most eloquently by William Cullen Bryant in “Thanatopsis.” But I too felt compelled to try to express my feelings in a short poem (my first such attempt in many years). I humbly dedicate this poem to three sisters/friends (Diane DeMark, Carolyn Jeschke, and Fran Mahe) who have recently lost their sons. I share your grief and loss.
Life Does Not Stop For Death by Melanie M. Jeschke
Life does not stop for Death.
The day still dawns, crisp and clear.
The birds still sing their cheerful tunes.
Unbidden, grief upturns my world,
A small boy laughs and runs at play,
A lawnmower sputters and thrums to work,
My neighbors wave and sadly smile,
Then vanish into busy lives.
“Wait! Stop!” I want to shout.
“Don’t you know I’ve lost my son?”
But Life does not stop for Death,
Nor even pause for my pain.
And yet, Life holds out hope to me.