In Christendom Lent, from the Latin for “forty,” is the annual season of fasting and penitence for 40 weekdays before Easter. But, as someone in mourning, I’m having a hard time thinking about giving up chocolate or staying off Facebook as anything as penitential as the sudden death of our son Mack, 8, on New Year’s Eve 2012.
The standard preparation for Lent asks us to step away from our busy lives and consider our mortality: for you were made from dust, and to dust you will return. Until Mack died, Lent was a kind of intrusion into my busy life and a bold reminder that all we see around us is finite.
Since Mack died I don’t just consider death, I live with it. We who mourn the love and presence of a beloved live in constant reminder of our mortality because a part of us has already returned to the Lord, and yet part of us remains.
“There is a part of the soul that stirs at night, in the dark and soundless times of day, when our defenses are down and our daylight distractions no longer serve to protect us from ourselves,” writes Sister Joan Chittister. “It’s then, in the still of life, when we least expect it, that questions emerge from the damp murkiness of our innerworld…these questions call for the contemplation of possibility.”
Five months after Mack died, just after Mother’s Day, I was asleep when I saw Mack come running towards me: sweaty, smiling, vibrant, alive. I stepped towards him and felt my heart leap from chest.
“Hi!” I said out loud and woke myself up reaching out for him. I blinked into the dark of night, realizing at once, and again, that he is but not here, with me. I fell back on to my pillow, tears streaming. “Dammit, Lord,” was all I could muster.
“I love you, Mack.” I whispered into the night. My husband reached out and squeezed my hand. I squeezed back.
The dead are invisible, not absent.
– St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) whose much loved son Adeodatus died at age seventeen.
While the two words are etymologically unrelated, if I consider the verb lent, the simple past tense and past participle of the verb “to lend,” I begin to understand the noun “Lent” differently. In some ways, all of our lives are lent to us for a time. Certainly being the mother of my children, the steward of precious little lives, allowed to see them grow, is an honor. Mack’s life was lent and while he was here with us we loved and cherished him everyday. The length of his life was not in our control, but I am so grateful for his time here and I am comforted by the certain knowledge that I will see him again.
All of our lives in a sense are lent, and it is healthy to be reminded each year through Lent that we have little control over when or how will be the end of our lives. We can be encouraged, though, that Lent ends with Easter Sunday and the resurrection, that assures us of the end of all death.