Today my wife wore a skirt the color of cantaloupe. She headed out the door on her way to work, looking like the sensible professional woman she is, and looking like a paragon of fashion, because she is that, too. Nobody would know that her mom died two weeks ago, and that she's mourning her, that she finds herself crying in strange and awkward places. It happens while driving a car, while taking a shower, while preparing a meal.
At one time everybody would have known she was mourning because she would have been forced to walk around for an extended period of time in a black dress. For six months, a year, she would have shuffled around solemnly, and that black dress would have been as good as a flashing neon light: Sorrow Here. Tread Carefully. But women don't wear mourning clothes any more, at least in our culture. They take their three bereavement days from the workplace, which is magically supposed to take care of the great, yawning void in human hearts, and then they get back to the daily grind. Some of them wear skirts the color of cantaloupes. Nobody knows.
Yesterday we went to church. "Hey, haven't seen you in a while" various people said to us. Right. That's because we've been living in hospitals and funeral homes. "What's up?," they asked. "Well," I replied, "Kate's mom died, and my dad is dying." "Oh," they said, "that sucks. My life sucks too. Can I tell you about it?" And they did.
I'm not exactly sure what I expect, but I think I expect something other than this. Kate's mom's death and funeral came and went, and we got lots of flowers and cards and sympathetic phone calls. From work. From non-Christian friends. From Christian friends outside our church. And our local church? A couple people called and sent nice e-mail messages. That's something, I suppose, and I'm grateful for it. But it wasn't nearly enough. In the old game of Church vs. Everybody Else, Everybody Else won in a landslide. It might have been different if we had had a baby. We probably would have been showered with meals and feted and given cloth diapers. But we're at the other end of life, and people are dying, not being born, and nobody knows what to say, so they say nothing at all. We were virtually invisible in the local manifestation of the body of Christ.
This produces profound disappointment. I wish it didn't. I wish I could shrug it off. Nobody's intentionally ignoring us. They just have their lives, almost exclusively with people their own age, and they make the social rounds and discuss how to be better stewards of the environment and how to serve people halfway across the globe. They are good people to whom we are invisible.
Our old Presbyterian Church had the Funeral Ministry down to a science. Some old geezer would croak, and the women would kick it into gear, ordering flowers, coordinating meals for the grieving family, cooking up a whopper of a potluck for the post-funeral bash, complete with jello salad and green bean casserole. Those old women didn't know what to say either. So they cooked. It was something. It was a lot. They were simply there, and their presence was meaningful as they ladled more green bean casserole on your plate.
We don't have a Funeral Ministry at our church. It's not a very trendy kind of ministry, and probably nobody would have interest in heading it up. All I know is that a funeral came and went, and nobody was there. Either nobody knew, or nobody cared. Neither prospect is good news. In the meantime, my wife heads off to work in her cantaloupe-colored skirt, acting for all the world as if all is normal. But all is not normal. She walks around with a hole in her heart. Nobody sees it. Nobody knows.