Like most guys I know, I wear a much larger collection of figurative hats, on Saturdays and every other day of the week. By turns I am the dubious fix-it man, the chauffeur, the jungle gym, the insurance consultant, the gronk monster (a family game that's a cross between tag and wrestling), the disciplinarian, and the raucous buddy. I'm the big brother giving what I hope is good advice. I'm the son asking for advice. I'm the proud papa, and the usually loving husband. Again, a hat for every occasion, relationship, and wrestling match. Each has its own unique color, texture, and fit, and not all of them are always comfortable or pleasant to wear, but I wear them because they're part of who I am, and I've become as familiar with each as I am with my collection of "real" hats.
Today, I had to dig in the back of my figurative closet under a stack of old shirts to find a hat that I dread wearing. It's a simple black hat, one that I fervently pray that I have to wear as little as possible. Today, I'm the grieving family member.
My aunt Sue passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer. She was sixty years old. When my grandmother passed away about twenty years ago, Sue kind of assumed Grandma A's role in the family. She remembered every birthday with a card and a gift, even those of my kids. She treated each of her nieces and nephews like her own kids, even though she only saw most of us at holiday gatherings. She gave me sour apples from a tree in her backyard when I was little, and laughed along with everyone else when I made an I-just-bit-a-lemon face. She was always eager to hear about our lives, and gave great hugs. It's no wonder to me that she had an incredible network of friends and family supporting her through her ordeal because she was, simply stated, an excellent person.
Sue's death was no surprise, but does that really make it easier to grieve the loss of a loved one? I suppose the shock is lessened in a situation like hers because you have time to prepare for it, but death, when it comes, is still death, and final in this world. This makes me sad, but it also hardens my resolve to be the kind of person Sue was, someone who lived with love and died covered with the love of those with whom she spent her life. I don't need to tell you how precious and fragile life is; I doubt there is anyone reading this who hasn't experienced a similar loss at least once. What I DO need to tell you is that there is nothing more important than the people in your life. If you spend your life caught up in other things and neglect people, who will bring you chicken soup and hot dish when your turn to go draws near?
Finally, I have to note that I don't believe death is the end, and that is the brilliant gold lining to death's black cloud. I believe that Jesus died so that we don't have to fade into nothing when we die, that if we know him, we'll someday get to see those who also know him that went on before, including those we know and love. I'll see Sue again. If you don't believe in that stuff, I won't argue with you, but since none of us will get out of life alive, you've got to admit there's a lot of merit to that kind of hope and assurance. At any rate, it beats the heck out of coming back to Earth as a cow or just fading into the ether, don't you think?
So I guess I'll wear this hat for a while, even though black's not really my color. After a while, I'll lock it up again for a very, very long time, God willing. And then I'll go on wearing all the other hats I wear on a day-to-day basis, but with a little more emphasis on the people for whom I wear them.
After all, I'll need someone to bring me chicken soup and hot dish someday.