PHOTO: The author with his mother and father at a parish Oktoberfest, October 2010.
The interregnum between the Christmas season (in the broader sense, one that lasts forty days until Candlemas, the second of February) and Ash Wednesday is known variously throughout the world as the great “Carnival.” It is the relief from drudgery of late winter, a last bit of revelry before the period of the Great Fast, known in the Western church as Lent. Anyone who has ever personally witnessed the death of a loved one -- their slow deterioration, their lapsing in and out of consciousness, transitioning from one plane of existence to the next, their final death agonies, the eerie changing of skin color that transforms what once was a living being -- they know that there is no carnival this year in the Alexander Family. We have given up our father for Lent. What more can the world ask of us?
I met with the parish deacon today, and went over the details of the funeral program, and the choreography of the Mass. Every parish is a little different, and as the "master of ceremonies," the idea here is to integrate into the entourage without changing how service at the altar is conducted. It's an odd feeling, being made to feel like a stranger in your own home, however unintentionally. Tonight, my siblings and some of their kids were at the house with a moving van, taking some of the furniture that made this house a home, to move it to a new apartment in the Assisted Living wing at Cottingham, so that Mom can feel at home there, and won't stop complaining about not being here.
I can't say I blame her.
When a loved one dies, the universe shifts here and there to adjust to the change. Sometimes we must leave one place for another, and yet there are times when we venture back to the places we knew. The landmarks, the points of reference, the street corners; we imagine they are the same as they always were. But around us are people who are going on about their business, living in the present moment while we are in a world of our own, fading in and out of that present moment. Someday, this house where I grew up will be empty of the possessions accumulated over fifty-five years, and it will be sold. It will then be someone else's home. Here in the town where I grew up, I will no longer have one, only a three-by-six-foot plot in a parish cemetery on the edge of town. There, a lifeless vessel will one day lie in wait, as the spirit journeys to what one may hope to be the heart's true home.
As C S Lewis once said: “We live in the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet.”