I was listening to a list of things that are beautiful, things that fill us with hope and with life. “Holding the hand of your daughter.” “Sitting by your grandfather’s bedside while he takes his last breath.” “A beautiful song.” “This feeling at work that what you do matters.”
My ears heard all of them, but my brain just stopped processing at about the second one. I was not surprised, really. I know that this is what we are supposed to believe. But I was struck by the force of it. My grandfather died about ten years ago. He died quite suddenly, walking into his bedroom to turn the clock foreward, for daylight savings. (Is daylight savings the one when we move the clocks foreward? What do we call the other one?) I have always found that kind-of wonderful and poetic. I have this idea that he went to be with that lost hour, in somewhere of eternal possibilities, so near to us, but not quite close enough to touch.
And so the literal meaning of those words, “Sitting by your grandfather’s bedside while he takes his last breath.” it’s not that what the words meant is what I struggled with. My mom has been dead for a little over a year now. And so whenever I hear that word, “death.” It’s her I am thinking about.
There are lots of things that were a lot less beautiful about her death. It was a battle she fought, a battle she lost, just a few feet at a time. It was World War I-style trench warfare, the death of my mother. Also, there is something… natural? expected? about losing grand parents. Yes, I know that the same could be said for parents. But somehow, it just isn’t the same. I did not know how deep the connection to my mom went until she was gone.
These things are related to something more fundamental, something which made her death not beautiful: me. I was not ready for it to be beautiful. I resisted it and I fought with it. Some of these thoughts and feelings on the inside played out in terms of decisions and words that happened on the outside. I am not proud of all the things I did and said as my mother died.
Declaring a thing beautiful makes it so. Tell a person they are beautiful and it will change them. God made the world, and then he said, “It is good.” I realized something about this: I think that when God declared the world good, it actually changed the world. It made the world more good, perhaps in some way we could never define or explain. This change was not only brought about because God is God. I truly believe that even when we declare a thing beautiful, it changes that thing.
Someday, much too soon, other people who I love very much are going to die. And I am declaring, right here and now, that it is beautiful. This declaration will make it a little bit more beautiful than it would have been. I don’t think this declaration will make it easier. But it will make it better.
I hope that you can learn from my mistakes. I hope that you will make this declaration now, too.
As I write this, I am holding on to this hope. In a way it so abstract I can barely describe it, but right now it feels really important.
I am going to try and express this hope as a question:
Would it have mattered if God came back to the world, and declared it good, after the fact? Can declaring a thing beautiful, after the fact, can this travel through time itself, going back, and changing a thing?
What if I decide right now, that my mom’s death was beautiful? Does that change anything?