July 17, 2009

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

‘Love: anterior to life … posterior to death’

Shirley Vogler MeisterMy 83-year-old mother, Irene Rose, died 13 years ago in January after a lengthy illness.

Because I said “goodbye” many times, I thought I was ready for her death. Not so!

Nothing prepared me for that kind of pain, not even my father’s sudden death at age 49 in July of 1962. When that happened, I also thought no grief could be as heart-wrenching. I was wrong then, too.

With Mom’s death, I felt as though temporal ties with our ancestors were broken. One sobering thought was: I am the next in line.

However, my brother, Michael, a Salvation Army minister, gave an upbeat eulogy at her funeral, reminding us that parental ties are never broken. He said our parents’ virtues and attributes live on through us.

I am the eldest. Then came my siblings: Stanley, Beverley and Michael. Between my birth and my first brother’s birth, my mother suffered a dreadful fall down a flight of stairs and lost a baby.

As was custom then, his tombstone simply says “Baby Vogler.” Later, when my sister and her husband also lost a baby boy, they named him for our father so “Lester Vernon” is on the tombstone.

In his eulogy for Mom, my brother, Michael, also shared this, written by Kentucky-born poet and lawyer William Ross Wallace: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

This was a tribute to Mom as a homemaker in our childhood home. Michael also used the healing touch of humor so family members and friends often laughed through our tears. He quoted Archie Bunker of former TV sitcom fame: “Dying is like being born. It’s God’s business.”

Another Bunkerism from “All in the Family” is: “Everybody’s scared of death until it hits you—and then you don’t give it another thought.”

That’s because, hopefully, the deceased loved one is already in heaven.

Another TV program, a documentary about death, referred to it as “the last frontier.”

If so, then we are all pioneers in a spiritual adventure. My sister, Beverley, claimed that Mom’s transition to heaven must have been happy because a peaceful smile graced her face as she died. Bev kissed Mom and whispered, “Didn’t I tell you it was beautiful?”

A week after Mom’s burial, Bev’s daughter, JoAnne, called to share how she and a nursing colleague at the hospital prayed for solace. Her friend, Terry, recalled Psalm 38:18: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed spirit.”

When Terry returned to her patients, one of them asked her to pull the paper sheets off a daily calendar so it would be updated. On that page was Psalm 38:18.

“Such a coincidence,” I exclaimed. My niece said, “We call it a confirmation.”

As poet Emily Dickinson explained, “Love is anterior to life and posterior to death.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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