I stood outside the church door, leaning on the handrail of the ramp.  The silver hearse was parked at the curb and pick-ups and cars were lining up behind to follow it to the cemetery.  I watched as a Volkswagen sedan zipped ahead. A red blinking light attached to the roof alerted me that this was our pastor’s car. (I knew this because I had ridden with him one time) My attention was focused on that unusual light when my eye caught the blue flashers of a police patrol car waiting at the corner to escort the procession of mourners. This wonderful tradition still existed in our small town.   The hearse pulled away from the curb and the church bells, as if on cue started ringing a slow cadence.    Completely alone now, I took off my mask. As the hearse made it to the street the bells sounded, no, heralded the announcement of a heavenly celebration. I was so caught up in the beauty of the moment, tears seeped out of my eyes and down my face.  Without the mask there to catch the tears I could feel them. It is so natural to cry for the loss, but it was an unexpected response to beauty of bells ringing.  I took the tears as a sign …a sign that I was still alive. (sometimes I wondered if I was just bones and skin existing in a pandemic world)

Ernie had left us, yes but had arrived at his destination now and was being welcomed. The bells I heard were echoes resounding from the heavens, I am sure of it. 

Oh Ernie, you suffered so much.  As if a diagnosis of Parkinsons was not enough, you had to get cancer, too.

 I feel a bit sad that I didn’t know Ernie better.  He attended our monthly support group from the very first meeting, unless it was a great day to out to the shooting range. When we are finally allowed to return to the bowling alley meeting room I will look to the spot where he sat.  I will envision his face and especially his smile.  I will hear Donna’s voice.  She was his wife of nearly 60 years.  She came to the meetings even when Ernie couldn’t and was always welcoming, encouraging and comforting.    Donna, I wish I could do something to comfort you now.

Death is inevitable.  Yeppers, but we all have time. 

Yes…We all have time.  Even if it is time of the measured kind, in hours, weeks, months or maybe a couple of years.  There is time, really.

Time to get to know those folks who sit at the same place and order the same lunch on the first Monday of the month at noon… to know them more than just their names..to know what they remember and hope and dream for when they sit alone, listening to that annoying wall clock ticking away the time. 

Time to watch the neighbor’s kids for a few minutes (while they are napping of course) so their mom can catch her breath…and listen to the oldest one sound out words while doing her reading homework. 

Time to pick up the phone and call the brothers and sisters you haven’t talked to in years to say “Hey, do you remember that time…”

How much time does it take to say that “remember when” or “I am sorry,” or “I know it’s been a long time but I want to tell you I love you”

 Ernie’s body may have worn out, but his soul goes on living.

I know it. Look what he did for me today…his “going” made an occasion for those bells to ring.  And the bells ringing made me cry.  And the tears running down my face made me feel alive.  And feeling alive made me realize that since I have time, measured or not, I can do something positive, no matter how small.  And if I do something positive, especially when it’s really hard for me to think happy thoughts or even to physically move to act on them, I will have lived my best day ever (so far).

Thanks Ernie. You were an incredible human being. You used your time well.

I can only hope that the same will be said about me.

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