Extreme Care: Human Remains

I was minding my own business looking out the window of my Delta jet sitting and waiting at Hartsfield Airport for our flight back to Lexington when the captain came on the loudspeaker and said— “I need to tell you that we are awaiting some human remains to be placed on the plane before we can push back, and fly to Lexington, so it will be a few minutes.” About ten minutes later a small tow truck with two baggage wagons pulled up to the plane and placed a 380 pound coffin protected inside a wooden container on the conveyor belt. The container read EXTREME CARE. The dead, it would appear, get far more care and respect in some cases than the living.

But for me, this moment in time led to a completely unexpected flashback which caught me off guard. You see, this is how our sweetpea Christy finally got home from Durham— on a Delta flight, through Atlanta in exactly that sort of box on about January 15th of last year. Nobody wants their child to come home to them in box marked Extreme Care. Frankly, it’s too late for extreme care. Now there is only time for extreme prayer. Nor did I need to hear the usual joke that in order to get to heaven in the South, if you fly Delta, you will have to go through Atlanta. But I heard it.

And what an odd phrase ‘human remains’ is. The fact is, nothing remains behind of the living person herself, just bodily remains. A body by itself is not the human being, just the mortal coil that is left behind to rot. Christy had left the building. So, truth be tolled, she wasn’t on that flight in that box. Opening that box at the viewing hours here in Lexington was rather like opening a Whitman’s sampler after someone had already absconded with all the chocolates. Only the wrappers are left behind.

I tell you all this because almost anything can trigger your memory of your departed loved one. And sometimes there is no way to prepare for this unexpected visitation of another dose, another wave of grief, another round of tears. Even the littlest things can prompt it, and even years later. It turns out, human beings are not merely frail and mortal, they are also infinitely sensitive to the vicissitudes of loss, long after the ‘human remains’ are in the ground.

So what does grief for a dead daughter look like over a year later? Well I tell people it’s rather like having your arm, the one you write with, amputated. In the year after the amputation the initial shock and pain goes away, and the spot where your arm once was heals up. But every single day when you wake up, you know something essential is missing, and she is not coming back, not, at least, before Jesus and the resurrection does. What I look forward to now is not so much dying and going to heaven, though I am sure that will be grand. What I look forward to is the resurrection when I can finally give my Christy a hug again, and tell her how much I missed her and love her. Until then, we live in hope.

The plane was now pushing back and we were heading down the runway finally to go to Lexington one more time. Some world weariness set in, and I closed my eyes and simply said, thanks again Lord for 32 great years with my sweetpea. And then I tried to sleep.

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