Thoughts on death and life

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Ed Preston died Oct. 5. He lived across the street from us. He had been at the Hospice House and his wife, Lillian, asked my husband to watch over their house while she stayed with him.

They were married 64 years. Ed turned 94 on Sept. 30.

The evening of Oct. 5 — it was a Wednesday — I saw our other neighbor drive off with Lillian. When they returned a few hours later I knew something had happened.

My husband and I went across the street, and as Lillian got out of the car she said, “Ed died.”

His memorial service was Monday.

All weekend it had rained, but it didn’t rain Monday.

The day after Ed died I went to see Lillian. She had been on the phone all day. She told me that all she wanted — all she wanted — was for her church’s bell choir to play at Ed’s service, but there was a possibility they wouldn’t be able to.

But they did, and it didn’t rain on Monday. Lillian wore a new dress, brown and black and white print, with a little black sweater over it. She looked lovely as she stood by Ed’s casket, her minister son by her side.

Her son, also named Ed (although his dad’s real name was Thornton), spoke about his dad, and I learned things about Ed that I never knew. Ed could fix anything, and father and son had spent hours in the garage taking apart old lawn mowers and building new ones to sell.

“As a father, he was a patient teacher,” son Ed said. “He taught me not only how to do something, but why. He taught me that nothing we do happens in isolation, that everything affects something else, which is true not just with mechanics, but with life.”

Ed was a greeter at his church. He was friendly and welcoming. I overheard a few people say that they looked forward to Ed’s handshake and smile every Sunday morning. One woman said, “He was the first one to greet me at this church and I’m here because of Ed.”

From across the street, I had watched Ed decline over the past few years. He couldn’t see well and didn’t drive anymore. My husband fixed things at their house, which I now know years ago Ed could’ve and would’ve done himself.

Sometimes I’d be over there as my husband fixed a toilet or a light switch and Ed would be right there, watching and helping as best he could.

At one time we were created to live forever, but once sin entered the world so did sickness and aging and death. We can’t do the things we used to be able to do. I never ran a marathon or even a 5K, not that I ever wanted to. But I have arthritis in my knee now, and most likely I’ll never run a race.

All this is sad, unless you know that death is not final. The core of the Christian faith is that Christ died so that we can live after we’ve died.

The apostle Paul, quoting the ancient prophets, wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” and “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Paul also said that Christians grieve the deaths of their loved ones differently. We grieve, but our grief is mixed with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13, my paraphrase).

When I had gone to see Lillian the day after Ed died, that’s what we talked about, that it’s OK to be sad, because death is sad. But Christians believe that death also means life. It means that Ed’s eyesight is perfect now. He can drive in heaven (if there are cars), and he can fix all the lawn mowers he wants.

At Ed’s memorial service we sang “Because He Lives,” which I thought an odd choice for a memorial service. But then we sang the final verse about one day we’ll cross the river, fight life’s final war with pain. Then “as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he (Jesus) lives.”

Ed lives too.

For Christians, in life, as well as in death, because Jesus lives, so do we. That is our great hope.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.