I remember when I took my kindergarten-granddaughter to her best friend’s father’s funeral. He had committed suicide. In preparing for this hard experience, I asked Emma if she’d like to make a card to take to her friend. She did. We got out the colored pencils, markers, and paper and she spent several hours carefully drawing everything she knew her friend liked–especially dogs. Both girls loved little stuffed toy dogs and Emma wanted to buy one as a gift for her friend which we took along with Emma’s drawings to the funeral.
Waiting for the service to begin, Emma asked many questions as she looked around at her first church experience: “Does that giant candle ever melt?” “Why is everyone wearing black?—I’m wearing dark blue, Grandma, that’s o.k., right?—its close to black.” Then she honed in on the many stained-glass windows—about 24—each depicting a story in the life of Jesus. When she saw the one that showed him bound for crucifixion, her eyes got wide and eyebrows frowned. “Why is Jesus all tied up?! Who would want to hurt Jesus?!” It seemed incredulous to her. She knew enough about the goodness of Jesus—in her eyes, the reason for Christmas—to be shocked that someone would want to hurt him! I did my best to whisper an adequate answer and told her I’d tell her more later.
Then her friend and her family came down the aisle, her little friend jumping, skipping—as kids do when adults on each side take their hands—clearly unaware of death. When Emma saw her, she called out to her and waved. The congregation stood as the priest began his opening prayer; we sang a hymn and stood for a few more words. When the service was over, Emma and I went to find her friend and give her the gifts Emma had brought. They threw their arms around each other smiling, so glad to be together.
As we drove home I thought about another funeral, one I’d taken my son to when he was in second grade. A classmate of his had died and the whole class attended. I never forgot the words of the clergyman who part way through his sermon said, “A life has not been stopped.” I could relate to that, having grown up in a religion that taught life is eternal and outside of matter. “A life has not been stopped” is a simple truth that has come to me several times when separation or death has presented itself.
At such times, another truth always comes to me–a favorite Bible passage from Romans: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (King James Version, Romans 8: 38, 39). We cannot be separated from God, Love, our true Parent.
Another experience comes to mind. A precious one. Our beloved 20-something-year-old cat, Butterscotch, died. My children grew up with Butterscotch and her brother Oreo, so my daughter, and her daughter Emma, age three at the time, came over to help me bury Butterscotch. As we wrapped Butterscotch in a small blanket and placed her in the ground, Emma said with such poignant affection, “We’ll be seeing you, Butterscotchy! We’ll be seeing you!” She had such love in her voice, assured that she could not be separated from Butterscotch. She had accepted readily my explanation that even though Butterscotch wouldn’t be around to play with, we could still hold her in our hearts and love her just the same. A child understands love. She holds tight to it instinctively. Emma understood Butterscotch’s life had not stopped.
We can never be out of Love’s reach. God is ever-present, like the Mother Rabbit in the classic children’s book, The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, that I’d read to Emma, and to my daughter and sons before her. In the story, the baby bunny tries to run away repeatedly but the Mother Rabbit says, repeatedly, “If you run away, I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” The little bunny goes fishing, climbs a mountain, hides in a garden, flies, sails, but in every adventurous scenario the Mother Rabbit remains present with him, in the end saying, she will always be his mother and will catch him in her arms and hug him. This story, along with these mentioned experiences, remind me of our divine Parent, God, whose ever-present mothering love never leaves us, from whom there is no separation.
Artwork: Emma As Landscape, pastel, 35″ x 25,” $575. This is my granddaughter, Emma, when she was a baby napping in her mother’s arms. I painted her as a peaceful landscape, all elements lovely, close, and interconnected.