The Morning After Death

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

Emily Dickinson

My grandmother, Judith Schielke, died yesterday. She had a long, full life on this earth, full of all the sorts of memories, joys, and legacies a well-lived life should leave behind. In the 27 years that I knew her, she was always full of love, always bragging about her grandkids, always ridiculously good at being a grandmother. No one could make a pecan pie like her.

There is a photo next to my bed of my Grandma and Grandpa Schielke, sitting together on a bench looking out at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, maybe 8 years ago. It was one of the last times we all went up to the mountains together. The weather that day was beautifully unsettled, in a manner typical for a summer afternoon above 8,000 feet in the Rockies. We walked around the lake amidst otherworldly clouds and fog, and my grandparents seemed especially affectionate with each other that day. My grandfather, Sig Schielke, was sick with cancer and would not live much longer, a fact which made that afternoon all the more memorable and blessed. The mountains always held such a special place in my grandparents’ relationship and in all of our hearts. That afternoon was a beautiful moment of a sort of “in betweenness”… in which heaven seemed to reach down and grasp our mortal hands, leading us for a moment in a peaceful sublimity amidst the shadowlands.

This morning, I’d like to think my grandparents are walking together again, along some celestial shore, bordered by mountains far grander than they’ve ever seen. I’m sure their reunion surpasses all the joys of any reunions we might experience on earth. I’m sure the things of earth are already growing strangely dim, as they bask in the light of God’s present glory and grace.

But meanwhile, the rest of us are still on this earth, touched by an acute loss that comes as just another quotidian reality, a passing of a life that occurred right after I had breakfast and right before I went to church. My mom and her brothers are “bustling” this morning, getting the funeral arrangements together. I’m busily trying to organize my week around an unexpected trip to Denver. Soon my grandmother’s possessions will be sorted through, and her room cleaned out. A life completed, all tangible contributions made. Her physical reality gone from us who have loved her.

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away

That line kills me. Dickinson’s words in that poem capture so well the everyday reality of death—the harsh fact that material vestiges remain whenever a soul departs this earth. Our reality continues on this rock. And part of that reality includes the sadness of learning to move on and “put Love away,” not in the sense of forgetting but in the sense of persisting. In the sense of waiting. Our day is coming soon enough.

The morning after death. I can’t help but think, in this Lenten season, about the morning after Christ died. What did that Saturday mean? The initial blow of the cross was over, and the resurrection was still a hoped-for future reality. But that Saturday was all about waiting. And that’s where we are right now. That’s what I feel at this moment. As George Steiner writes in Real Presences, “Ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other.”

Every new day, I think, offers a little bit of the “in betweenness” that I felt at Sprague Lake with my grandparents that day. Some days there is more of the divine seeping in than others. Some days it’s hard to even get out of bed. But every day, for all of us, is as much about this world as it is about that one. The divine presses up against the mundane in every moment, and our ability to cope with tragedy and steadfastly look toward rebirth depends on our attentiveness to the collision.

The Sweeping up the Heart will be a reality for us from now until we ourselves enter into Eternity. But even as it is the solemnest of industries, it’s also a reminder of how eminent divinity really is, and how present the immortal can feel.

It feels pretty present on a day like this.

7 responses to “The Morning After Death

  1. Sorry to hear about your Grandma, man.

  2. Brett, Thanks for the beautiful tribute to your Grandma. That day at Sprague Lake was certainly a memorable and blessed day and gave us all a peek at what glory must be like!

  3. Brett,

    Caroline and I are sorry to hear about your loss. We’ll be praying for the family.

  4. Brett,

    Thank you…..this is beautiful. I know your grandmother loved you very much!!

  5. Dear Brett, Your words of remembrance touched my soul…your precious Grandma Schielke did the same. She was blessed with the best gift of all…loving well. I am so sorry for your loss, and will look forward to her celebration of life. Hugs from afar, Patty

  6. Pingback: The Morning After Death « The Change…

  7. Great post.

    A neighbor wrote that poem out on a card and slipped it under our door the morning after my grandfather died. It was on our fridge for weeks, as we all did our own sweeping. It helped.

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