By Regan Burke who blogs at BackStory Essays
A friend asked me if I’ve given my son a list of people to call when I die. And right then I felt the future running away with me so fast I could hardly catch my breath.
I told her he'd never do it. “He'd get mad if I even approached the subject.”
“How do you know?”
How do I know? He hardly talks to me as it is, much less about an uncomfortable subject.
“It’s a hard job—to call around to strangers and tell them their friend has died. Think of the responses—the oh-no’s! and the demand for details. No. He wouldn’t do it.”
“Well, how will I find out?” pleaded my friend.
There’s that future again, coaxing me to live in it, whispering that it’s my responsibility to inform my friends when I die.
I’m drawn to a passage in Pascal’s Pensees:
“We never keep to the present…we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up.” He writes about our failure to live in the present, “we think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control…”
So, no. I’m not going to try to control what happens to me after I die other than keeping my end-of-days papers in order. I’m happier owning this moment and this moment and this moment. I’ll let time future govern itself.
On the Sunday after All Saints Day, November 1, my church recites the names of those members who’ve died the past year. This year there were more people on the list I knew. I mean, I knew them. Not just their names. I knew them.
After the service, as I sat alone in my pew listening to the organ postlude, I popped open my iPhone. I read an account about two women who guarded the dead body of one of the synagogue victims in Pittsburgh so that, in keeping with Jewish custom, the person would never be alone.
I had descended into the grace of solitude, a still point, wondering if Jews believed the soul lives beyond the body when I heard someone call my name.
“Hi Regan,” came the voice of my pastor, Shannon Kershner. I looked up to see we were the only two people left in the church after the All Saints Service.
She had just delivered a sermon on John, 11:35: Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. Pastor Shannon reminded us Jesus cried over the death of his friend, Lazarus, joining in the collective grief of his community.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“No,” I answered, “the dead.”
EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.