My mother loved to lament, while she was preparing some family feast, that she would have to cook her own funeral dinner. But this was a faux, if not fey, complaint. Sometimes I’d hear it while doing something useful, like peeling potatoes. At other times, I might have been enjoying a late breakfast bowl of cereal, glad to be home and to sleep in. Either way, I went with her flourish.
“That would be great, Mom! What a help. If you could just have the meat and potatoes ready before you go, I’m sure the Altar Society won’t mind doing the salads and desert. Still…if you could bake something sweet and have it frozen, ready to go, that would be even better!”
She might have squeaked a bit, but my mother always got things done. If an appliance was going out or a floor needed to be replaced, it would be finished before my next visit. A few months before she died, when she had again been diagnosed with cancer, after 17 years living free of it, she suddenly announced that she was moving into an apartment for seniors.
“Why on earth would you do that when you’re sick?”
“I want it done, so that you kids don’t have to deal with this stuff.” She gestured around her.
She made me go and look at an apartment with her. My mother hadn’t moved since 1960. I don’t think she realized what it would mean. A week later, she had changed her mind. I think that she understood that she had run out of time. Two months later, she was dead.
I believe I’ve grieved as much as anyone can. Certainly my faith was a consolation, but there was an additional grace that made a loss, one which I’d had always dreaded, easier to accept. It was the sense that her life was complete, that she had lived well and fully, and that neither she nor I had unfinished business.
Would I have kept her if I could? Absolutely! Was she being torn from my life? No, there was a sense that no seams were being ripped. They were all well sewed. Her life was something whole, something complete.
In celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, the church draws primarily upon her comprehension of Christ’s resurrection. His crucifixion ripped open his life and that of the universe itself. His resurrection restored both and raised them to glory.
We believe that, because Mary shared fully, and without sin, in the life of grace, which her son and savior brought into the world, she experienced death, the end of her life, not as we do but as we were meant to do. Death for her was a falling into satisfied sleep, the sort one earns when work and cares are complete. There was no tearing, no sense of incompleteness, which marks the death of all others. Life lived under the reign of sin is always incomplete, fragmented, not ready for closure. Death comes as harm rather than as harvest.
My grandmother Klein died the night before Memorial Day. Her peonies had been picked and placed in aluminum covered coffee cans, ready to be taken to the cemetery. The chicken was cut and in the sink, ready for the meal that would follow.
Death doesn’t come by calendar or clock, but it need not come as thief, as that which robs us of precious time, of opportunities not yet realized. The greatest of saints still die with something that cannot be complete on this side of the grave. Some goodness left undone, some sorrow not yet redeemed and made whole.
Not her. Not the Mother of God.
The life of her son was violently torn from him—and from her—so that our lives might be made whole in the resurrection. And in the power of Christ’s resurrection, one member of the church, the center of his faith faithful core, ended life as God had always intended: whole, complete, ready for the harvest. No ripped seams.
Revelation 11: 19a, 12: 1-6a, 10ab 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27 Luke 1: 29-36