A few weeks ago, my niece – who is more than just a niece; she’s like a combination of a sister and a bosom buddy – recommended a memoir by the prolific writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner. She thought that, as a nonfiction writer and an occasional memoirist myself, I would appreciate his style, and I did. I was particular struck by two passages:
“Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is looking out into another kind of time altogether.”
“… although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them … it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us.”
[“The Sacred Journey: a memoir of early days, Frederick Buechner, Harper One, pp. 21-22]
When the phone rang at 11.18 PM on the eve of the Fourth of July, I hoped it was a wrong number. Then I heard my brothers’s voice, calling from Cape Town. He didn’t beat about the bush.
“Joanie has died.”
We have called our mother by her first name since we were adults.
There are as many descriptions of shock as people who have experienced it. For me, it was a suspended moment hanging in the balance while my brother waited quietly at the other end. And in that moment, in an instant, my relationship with my mother turned from present tense to past tense, and so to memory.
There are also as many descriptions of comfort as those who have needed it and, although I couldn’t have known it at the time that I first read them, those words by Frederick Buechner have proven to be very comforting to me now. I share them here for anyone else who has lost somebody close.