We said goodbye to Ruthie on Saturday.  Such a joyous memorial service filled with joyful black music, stories,  and laughter!   Ruthie joined our family in 1969 as a confused and suicidal teenager, angry at the world and life.  Over the years, she entered and reentered our lives, sometimes being affectionate and loving, others angry and disappointed over our racial obtuseness.  Like so many,  we began our journey as a mixed-race family, assuming that racism was a personal thing.  She taught us to see just how systemic cultural racism truly is and how we whites have assimilated white privilege with our mother’s milk.  No wonder she was angry!  But, oh, she could also give of herself to make us laugh!

Not being able to sleep one night, I opened my Kindle.  Not being able to read the title and author without my glasses on, I opened a book, not knowing what I was getting.  One of my challenges with the Kindle is I often have trouble retrieving the titles and authors when I am done with the book. Even with a magnifying glass, I can’t read the title, but this I know.  The author was Mary Taylor.  

This was a story of a mother and daughter who were dealing with unresolved grief.   Taylor was able to tuck all sorts of hints into her story, such as the importance of talking about the loved one and finding very tangible ways to keep their memory alive.  She also stressed the importance of allowing ourselves to feel, to ask for help, to be vulnerable and laid out the importance of rituals such as our eating ice cream on my husband’s birthday…or my making a blueberry coffee cake when I heard of Ruthie’s death since blueberry coffee cake was one of her favorites.

My Dad used to say that we need to die the way we live, to embrace death with the same joy and enthusiasm with which we embrace life.  Ruthie certainly did that.  I’ve never been around anyone who accepted their impending death with such lightness of heart, actually seeing her death as the reward for a life filled with struggle and joy.  

Death tends to be frightening because no one has ever come back to tell us what lies on the other side.  Another reason lies with the ways the church has tried to scare us into heaven by stressing punishment and everlasting torment for even the most minor of sins rather than the freedom that comes by emulating and following Jesus.  

Over the years, I have come to really appreciate II Cor. 5: 16 – 18.  “No longer then do we judge anyone by human standards.  Even if, at one time, we judged Christ by human standards, we no longer do so. When anyone is joined to Christ, he is a new being; the old is gone, and the new has come.  All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”  While I don’t know what follows death, this I know our task of loving, accepting, forgiving, and affirming lies in the here and now.  Like Ruthie, I figure if I do the best I can (at least most of the time), I need not fear what comes after. By loving life, I can also love death, even when it is a total unknown.

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