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Aunt Pat would have been 74 on Dec. 7.
Uncle Al, Pat's husband, died many, many years ago. They were only married 13 years and Pat had no children. My husband was her closest kin.
During the 17 years we've lived in Florida, 40 miles from Pat, my husband cared for Pat as if he were her son. She loved him and depended on him. He loved her, even if she did drive him nuts.
She died from complications after liver cancer surgery, spending the last month of her life in the hospital. She never went back to her home, never drove her car again. After her surgery she never ate real food again, never tasted lasagna - her favorite.
She never smiled again, never saw daylight except through the blinds of her hospital room.
She died on Halloween, just past noon. Her funeral wasn't until a month later, to give out of state relatives a chance to make travel plans. She was Catholic and we had a Mass for her, as she had wanted.
The priest, "Father John," wore cream-colored vestments. The choir sang about God raising us up "on eagles' wings," bearing us "on the breath of dawn" and holding us in the "palm of his hand."
Someone else read the words of Jesus, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
In the weeks between Aunt Pat's death and her funeral, my husband and I cleaned out her house, throwing stuff away, giving stuff away, selling some of it. I remember thinking, "It comes down to this. Seventy-three years and then it's gone, just like that."
At the funeral, as the priest offered thoughts about Pat and about life in general - and about death - it struck me: What have we done?
By that I mean, what have we humans done? Death isn't natural. It isn't the way life was supposed to be. Life was supposed to be lived forever.
God didn't create us to die!
We could blame it all on the first man, Adam, or on the first woman, Eve. God told them they could eat from any tree in the Garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But that's the one they ate from, and because they did God said they could no longer live forever - and neither could their kids. (That includes us.)
You might think that you would never disobey God like that, but I highly doubt it. Any one of us would've eaten the fruit. I probably would've made a pie with it and served it a la mode.
I'm making light of this, but it's gallows humor. During the weeks of visiting Aunt Pat in the hospital and seeing the trauma helicopter land on the roof and observing people's faces filled with worry and grief, after hearing grown men in waiting rooms cry for their mothers and seeing grown daughters hold the frail hands of their fathers awaiting surgery, I couldn't help thinking how unnatural it all was and is and how it must grieve the heart of God, the one who created us for eternity and for health and soul-satisfaction.
What have we done?
Even now, weeks later, I am keenly aware of the seriousness of sin. I'm not saying that people get sick as direct punishment for their sin, as if God smites car thieves with cholera or bank robbers with malaria. But sickness is definitely a result of sin. The perfect body of the first man, Adam, eventually broke down - and he died.
But it's not all bad news. It's as Jesus once told a grieving woman: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).
The woman's answer was the same as mine is. Yes, Lord! I do believe that. I believe there's more to life than the 70 or 80 years we have here on earth. I believe that one day, even though I die, I will live again.
Not too long after Jesus said that, he died - and then he lived and continues to live. Those who believe and trust in that will live one day, too.
If there's good news to sin and death, that's it. But mostly people like Aunt Pat die and people like us miss them when they go.