The time that follows death is a disorienting kind of haze. We trudge through muddy waters, watching incredulously as the world still spins, accepting reality slowly, and ultimately – hopefully – finding a way to extend the spirit of a loved one lost.
I recently lost a friend and mentor, Auline, who warmly welcomed me into the military spouse community eleven years ago. As if with a staff in hand, she shepherded me through the expansive, rolling hills of military life. Respected and loved, she was the one everyone aspired to be… or at least to be near. If you walked into a room full of people, you went to sit next to Auline… if you could find a chair… because everyone was seated near her. But, there was room. She always had room for you at her table and in her heart.
Auline demonstrated incredible love and humility. With her husband, she ministered to the less fortunate and, adding to their biological kids, they adopted and fostered nearly a dozen children. Every decision, every action, was an attempt to create a loving, welcoming place for others, as if by bringing others to her, she could share the fierce love they so deserved and craved. It’s amazing how much she had to give.
She would probably pass off any attempt to put her on a pedestal with a humorous remark that perfectly blended what is humble and kind with what is saucy and irreverent. Auline could make a grown man blush. She joked that she wasn’t very well behaved. We’d laugh in these moments, agree in part, but mostly appreciate how she refused to color inside the lines. Life is too short to take too seriously, after all.
Her death was unexpected and shocking, shortly following an abrupt and terminal diagnosis. After she passed, social media swarmed with prayers and tributes. It honestly felt like the whole world was mourning her loss, or at least it seemed that the whole world should. How strange it felt to sit suspended between denial and reality, watching as people who didn’t know her kept going about life as normal. Outside, cars went by, kids walked to school, baristas passed coffee through drive-thru windows. And we wondered how any of these ordinary things could be going on when the world was now without Auline.
But then, the world keeps spinning, no matter what. And we must find our way to keep going, keep moving. Auline had always faced hardship head-on, with faith and resolve. She pushed through, chin up, hands folded, trust in God. And we who were lucky walked behind her. It seems that now we must do the same.
Helen Keller once said, “When it seems that our sorrow is too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy-hearted into which our grief has given us entrance, and inevitably, we will feel about us their arms and their understanding.”
And so I think of the many who share my profound respect for Auline. Indeed, to accommodate the huge crowd expected for her memorial service, they had to find a different, larger church. And when all were gathered, not a seat was left empty. We in Auline’s wide circle are connected because of our love and admiration for her. We share sadness in her loss. We are joined through the powerful impact she had on our lives, the fuel she gave us to do good works, give of ourselves, and make life better for others. We number in the thousands. Thousands.
I am reminded of a song I sang in my college church choir, based on Philippians 1:6. I recall singing,
“He who began a good work in you
Will be faithful to complete it.
He’ll be faithful to complete it.
He who started the work
will be faithful to complete it in you.”
Coming to grips with the loss of someone whose good works abounded is a trying task. We question how Auline could possibly be gone when she clearly had so many good works left to do. But, when I think of her effect on all of us, when I consider how she changed all of us, something tells me that we have not seen the last of Auline’s good works. Perhaps her work has just begun. As several of her eulogists suggested, Auline’s spirit touched all of us, so let us complete her work.
On my second-to-last turn home, Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” came on the radio. I thought how perfect it was to end our trip to celebrate Auline’s life listening to a message that echoed how she lived.
And then, as I turned onto my street, a completely unsuitable song came on and ruined my reverie. Meghan Trainor’s “Your Lips Are Moving.”
What? I thought. This isn’t poetic! And it has nothing to do with Auline! I was having a moment!
… But the beat is catchy… and it’s kind of a fun song… and who doesn’t like Meghan Trainor? She sure is sassy… like Auline.
I laughed and shook my head.
Pulling into the driveway, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking how perfectly wrong this song was, but how much I wanted to just sing along and dance. And before I turned the car off, one thought went through my head:
Auline, I thought, thanks for the punch line.