When a person dies, it is difficult to break the news to the house. It sits steady on its foundation and casually denies the truth. It waits for them to come home. It leaves their shoes kicked off by the door haphazardly, their coat hung up on the hook that will always be theirs, their coffee mug still dirty in the sink with a dark ring staining the bottom.
Everything is in perfect place, set there by two people who will never come back to this home again. When I am there, I feel like an intruder, too nervous to touch anything, as if my fingerprints could change the basic chemistry of their home. If I move this mug, will the house forget them? Are these indentations in the flour bag from her hands or his? How soon until the last things they touched are touched by someone else?
When I attended funerals before this year, I thought only of how hard it would be to choose the casket your loved one would be buried in, assemble pictures of them, write the obituary. I never thought about all of the arrangements after the funeral. I wish I was so naive again to think the funeral would be the hardest part. Now I know that someone has to go through the clothes in their closet. Someone has to move their shoes from the front entryway, their coat from the hook, their stained coffee mug from the kitchen sink. I imagine the house, moving from denial to grief with each removal, weeping with us, “how many deaths must I endure?”
I cannot bear the thought of anything changing. I want to freeze this house in time, create a museum out of their bedroom where everything will always stay the same. I want the kitchen cabinets to stay closed, the pantry to stay messy, his dirty clothes to stay in their small pile near the end of the bed. Before this year I would have labeled these the ideas of a crazy person. At my best, I would have looked on a person with desires like this with pity, and at my worst, I would have looked at them with disgust. I comfort myself by saying this is not my desire, this is simply what the house wants. Aren’t there physical laws governing this sort of thing anyway? This is simply inertia, the desire of a house set one way to stay that one way.
When I get really honest with myself, which I do not like to do often these days, I know that this house is one of the only things left that I have any control over. There is nothing permanent to prove that they were here, that they existed and served the Lord faithfully and lived. I cannot control my mind and the way memories have already started to fade, becoming clouded over in a thick haze so it’s almost impossible to see. Without them being here and acting as my co-remembers, it is so easy for memories to be forgotten and lost forever. I panic in the fog and reach for something to hold onto, something tangible like shoes at the entryway or makeup on the counter. I can point to these things and say to myself, “Look! They will not be forgotten. This is here.”
This week we celebrated Easter and I found myself thinking about the physical body of Jesus and how Jesus in his resurrected body placed Thomas’s shaky, doubting fingers into the scars on his hands and side. When I picture this moment, I can almost feel the tangible proof of love and life. Thomas had said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe,” (John 20:25) and I am him. I need the physical to tie me to what is true, to prove that I am not simply thinking wishfully.
On the front porch of their house sits a sign that reads “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I know that everything in their home will change. It will smell different, their clothes will no longer inhabit the closet, her makeup will no longer sit on the bathroom counter. The house will change, but the Lord is unchanging, a sure foundation. His scars still exist and so does his invitation to plunge my trust into them. Soon, when the last thing they touched is touched by someone else and there is nothing left in the world to prove that they were here, his scars will still be there and we will say with tears blurring our vision, “we will still serve the Lord.”