Did it seem strange to you that I so wanted to spend time with Tom’s body? My thoughts are drawn to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s loss of his son Eric to a mountain climbing accident in the Kaisergebirger. How hard it was to say good-bye to Eric’s body.
“Tenderly we laid him in the warm June earth … I catch myself: Was it him we laid in the earth? I had touched his cheek. Its cold still hardness pushed me back. Death, I knew, was cold. And death was still. But nobody had mentioned that all the softness went out. His spirit had departed and taken along the warmth and activity and, yes, the softness. He was gone. ‘Eric, where are you?’ But I am not very good at separating person from body. Maybe that comes with practice. The red hair, the dimples, the chipmunky look – that was Eric.”
Similarly, the small, sweet body resting in a casket in Oklahoma City was Tom. Only a gnostic, only someone who believed God loved souls but not bodies, would frown on my desire to sit with Tom for a while, drinking in the memories of the years we had spent together. Of course there is a time to say good-bye, but rushed farewells can come back to haunt us.
In his Confessions Augustine shares his grief over the death of his mother Monica: “The tears which I had been holding back streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested …” And so it has been for me.
The tears come less frequently now. Days pass and my eyes remain dry. Yet a simple glance at Tom’s photo near my desk and a lump rises in my throat. For I have lost a friend—we have lost a friend—if only for a time.
“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; God employs several translators: some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another …” (John Donne)
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