An e-mail from an old friend got me to thinking about my late MILs. First we lost the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s mother, then we lost the XH’s mother – who was dear to the Ol’ Curmudgeon as well as to me.
I still miss the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s mother afresh and suddenly from time to time. When I was working on PhD at Ga State, I would be walking down a hall and suddenly “smell” her – her perfume – or “feel” her presence. And no one would be there when I turned around. So when I experienced those, I would “tell” her under my breath that we were fine, the school was fine and she could let go and move on to Heaven. At prayers, I would pray for her soul and her salvation. Eventually it stopped happening. I like to think she heard me and was able to go on.
XH’s mother is still a fairly fresh wound. And her husband 2 years later was a great blow. I just adored him.
I still miss the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s mother, and my mother, and my XMIL and XFIL, every – single – day – of – the – year. When the older generation dies, you realize you not only are an adult, but you are now the “older” generation. And it’s scary on top of the grief. Even though I had not had much of a “relationship” with my father, when he died I felt a sort of loss, and just a little more lonely.
When my XH’s aunts and uncles started dying – about one every 1-2 years (there originally were 12 of them between his mom and dad) – I felt the loss. And I feel a loss every time one of my “early life” “icons” dies – Merv Griffin, Shelly Winters, Dennis Weaver, Senator Lloyd Bentson, Red Buttons, Jackie Gleason, Gerald Ford, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the list goes on and on – and gets longer every year.
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, XVII, No Man is an Island
No matter how much of a hermit someone becomes, he is still involved in mankind. And he still affects those around him. And they still affect him. So much for the “I’m not hurting anyone but myself,” excuse for bad habits and for bad actions!
The Orthodox Christian Church understands that every time we sin (miss the mark for which we are aiming), that sin affects every other person in the world. That may seem extreme, but think about it. Even if I am in a closet, and sin alone, in the dark in the closet, that sin will affect me, and that effect will affect how I behave in the future – both toward myself and toward other people. It will affect my mind and my soul, perhaps clouding them, perhaps hardening them, perhaps I will care less if I harm someone.
If an Orthodox Christian even *accidently* causes the death of a person – say in an auto collision – the priest will exclude that person from receiving Holy Communion until all of the bad effects on him are worked out through Confessions (yes, that’s a plural), prayers, readings, doing special things (what they might be is worked out with the priest). This is not the “excommunication” of the Roman Catholic Church. The penitent is still very active, and is expected to be present at every possible service, and is expected to be prostrate in Church (literally, on the floor, face down) frequently. Penitence is a very active and supported process. And, yes, we truly believe that every man’s death diminishes every other man in the world. And, yes, we truly believe that every man’s sin diminishes every other man in the world.
Even my father’s death diminished me. And my estranged half-sister and half-brother will be diminished when I died (they are considerably younger than I). I haven’t been in contact with them for over 15 years. I don’t even know how to get in touch. If I knew, I’m not sure I would, but I often think it would be nice to do so.
Even the thought of the death of those closest to me affects me – the thought often makes me cry. The thought of my own death makes me cry sometimes when I reflect on all the things I have done, left undone, and even unknowingly done or left undone. These sins weigh on me. Loss weighs on me. And all I can do is prostrate myself and cry out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”