The flags waved brightly in the breeze this morning, seeming out of place on this perfect day with the crisp blue skies, the unseasonably cool temperatures. They’re flying at half-staff. Mourning.
Though the flags officially mark the passing of Ted Kennedy, for me they will always represent the death of someone else. Someone who died as she lived, quietly and no doubt thinking about how to make things easier for those she loved. My friend’s death last night is not the sort of occasion that is greeted by formal, national mourning. But for each of us who knew her, the world is a less complete place without her in it.
When people talk of death, they often say they’d like it to happen at home, surrounded by family, at the end of a long life. My friend had much of that good death. She closed her eyes in the embrace of her husband after telling her youngest children good night. Shortly after that, he realized she’d gone. If she’d been eighty, we’d all have talked about how fortunate she was. But she was forty-one.
Forty-one with a 10-year-old daughter who stood today by the hospital bed still placed in the living room and asked her father where exactly they’d taken her mother. With a 13-year-old daughter who stood by my own child, looking through the Facebook postings friends began leaving when they heard the news. Death in the 21st century involves expressions of grief via social media as much as it does flower arrangements and casseroles.
I don’t pretend to understand why such things happen. I won’t join in the refrain of “she’s in a better place,” whether or not I believe that to be true. But I do know that my friend and her family touched many, many lives both before and during her illness. They’ve shown us how to live and how to love, and even how to die with grace and dignity. And for that I’m thankful even through the pain.