Our son, Blake, called us from Atlanta one recent day. He had just heard some terrible news. Even though he is in his late 20s and stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, he sounded much the same way he did as a little boy when he had just lost something extremely valuable to him.
His voice cracked and he brushed back tears as he told us that his lifelong friend, David Rumph, had suddenly died. He had known David since the third grade. He was shocked, saddened and in disbelief, to say the least!
How do you explain to your child about death when clearly their heart is breaking? What do you say that will comfort in a desperate time of need? I wondered this as I spoke with him and even after I hung up the phone.
Just a few days later, we received some news that one of my parents’ lifelong friends, George Collins, also had passed away. Unlike David, he was well into his 80s and had been blessed with a full and long life. Still, it was sad to lose such a fine and respectable man who had meant so much to me in my growing up years.
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Death is never a welcome visitor. Sometimes it sneaks up unexpectedly. Other times, you have time to somewhat prepare for its unpleasant arrival. It has the power to change many lives in a split second. It is a little easier to understand when it comes to visit an older person who has weathered time and lived a full life. But when someone is taken at such a young age, it makes you really think.
Emotions were very close to the surface around the Ballard household this past week. Each of our minds took a journey back in time to visit with the ones we had lost. We were constantly preoccupied with thoughts of the good times we shared with these people who had left us. Like a blanket to wrap up in on a cold winter’s night, our memories comforted us.
I have always thought that funerals are really not for those who die as much as those who live. Coming together at a certain time and gathering in one room with others who also have shared a part of the life of the deceased is the start to the long road of healing. It is also a reunion of sorts.
Although it is under sad circumstances, you get to see people you have not seen in years. Some may live within mere miles of you but, because of our lives, we hardly have the time to stop, let alone visit. A death causes you to make the time and it always amazes me how our schedules can be rearranged when we feel as though they have to be.
I went to the funeral home twice this past week. In fact, it was the same funeral home. When you are at a visitation, something magical happens. With each face you see, with each memory you conjure and with each thought that passes through your mind, you travel back in time. Your mind is amazing that way. Even without buying a ticket, packing a suitcase or loading a car, you travel while you simply stand in place. Flying back through decades only stopping here and there at a certain moments in time, you remember your past. And when you do so, it’s always the good times you remember. Those are the ones we choose to hold on to.
My personal memories of Mr. Collins swirled around my mother and daddy and many years full of adventures. Looking around the funeral home, I saw a room full of old friends who, as they offered a comforting word, triggered another memory. Most of our conversations began with, “Remember when he or she ...” or “Do you recall when ...” Together in a span of an hour or so, we covered years and years of good times. I left the funeral home smiling, yet a little tired from all my travels back in time!
The same thing happened when we gathered for David’s service. But seeing my son and all of his young friends trying to make sense of their friend and classmate’s tragic death made me a little sadder. While I was fortunate enough to have many years from which to pull my memories of Mr. Collins, they only had a few. But with David, those few years they had to pull from were full.
When you are young, many times you think you will live forever. When a death occurs, it causes you to stop in your tracks and take notice of how precious every minute really is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much easier as we age. No matter how old we are, death makes us take inventory, see where we have been and chart the direction we wish to go with our lives.
As Blake loaded up his car and headed back to Atlanta to continue his life Sunday afternoon, we squeezed him a little harder as we hugged and kissed him. One thing I have definitely learned over the years from death is to never let someone you love out of your sight without saying, “I love you!”
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4930; call (478) 757-6877; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.