Opinion Columns & Blogs

Staying close in life and death

A few years ago a close friend’s wife passed away and I was asked to paint three rooms in his house. Unlike most people, I don’t mind painting and learned the skill years ago from an old coach in Statesboro named George Roebuck, who I’ve written about before.

To give you an idea of how long ago it was that George and I painted, we paid ourselves about $4 an hour. My friend’s house was relatively new and didn’t really need painting but I assumed he had his reasons. The rooms were the master bedroom, bath and living room with fireplace.

I supposed it was because that’s where he and his wife had spent most of their time, and well, he just wanted them to be a different color than they were when they lived there together.

It was reason enough for me and, after all, death means different things to different people and his reasons were his own. When you place love and death in the same room, your grief is either inconsolable or you find a way to live with it, depending on your view of eternity. He had placed what remained of his love on the mantle in a beautiful urn, in an effort to keep her as close in death as she was in life which, of course, is not possible, try as we will.

She stayed there on the mantle while I painted, all the while praying that the paint stick I held didn’t meet with the urn in some weird dance resulting in her remains becoming part of the carpet. It was my first urn experience and I will say that I was terrified. Well, not terrified, but very uncomfortable being in the same room with the urn so I finished in record time.

If he paid me for two coats of paint, he may have paid too much because one is all I can remember. She was a beautiful person and I could understand why he wanted to have her remains near. Still, it was my first urn. Later on she was scattered in the gulf in a beautiful ceremony and I became curious as to why folks would prefer an urn over say, a plot.

After some reading I became a, I wouldn’t say “fan” of the idea, but it began to appeal to me. Today my dad’s remains sit near my mother’s bed in a beautiful golden urn with pictures of his life and her’s nearby. I feel that, in these last eight years, his “presence” has been a comfort to her and I find myself going back there, to her room when she’s out, and sitting near the golden urn and pictures of their lives together.

One day I’ll have to find a place where their remains will reside together, perhaps in a quiet spot in the mountains where their journey together began. I find myself thinking of that movie from 1976, “Robin and Marian” with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn when, upon learning he and Marian have been poisoned, Robin tells Little John to find the arrow he’s about to shoot into the air and “bury us close together.” A beautiful love story, if you’ve never seen it.

We all look at death differently, preferring to put “him” somewhere far away where “he” can’t be seen and we can’t be touched. Still, death touched us all this past week. Perhaps not directly, but as we watched the horror of Las Vegas, “he” wormed his dark way into our lives, once again reminding us of our frailty and the randomness of life.

“He” can’t be cheated, as they say, but maybe, in our limited way, “he” can be thwarted as we use the tragedy in Nevada, to not only keep those lost to death in our prayers but also keep our loved ones still here close in life. As close as the urn on the mantle or beside the bed. As close in life as we sometimes keep them in death until someone finds our arrow and we spend eternity together. May God console the bereaved in the knowledge that one day, they will see their loved ones again.

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.