I’d walked down the middle aisle of that old, Gothic church so many times for so many occasions — first communion, confirmation, stations of the cross during Lent. Also, for the many, many funerals I served as an altar boy over the years.
This time, I was trailing my father’s casket down that aisle as notes from the pipe organ reverberated through the cavernous church.
It felt surreal.
My dad died at the age of 53, done in by a heart attack brought on by a lifetime of heavy smoking. The unexpected death was shocking enough, but what really threw me were the feelings that processed with me down the aisle.
It was like I’d gone through the buffet line and loaded up on things that seem not to go together — pickles and cottage cheese, sadness and relief, pizza and anchovies, love and resentment.
Also, guilt that I didn’t feel more sadness. If I’d been sadder, it would have meant I’d missed him more.
Mostly, I was relieved that he was finally free of the demons that seemed to chase him much of his life, the ones that my mom said were stowed away when he returned from serving in the Korean war.
How do you digest that mixed plate?
Over the years, I realized I’m not alone on this one. Many people have told me about their very conflicted feelings over the death of someone who seemed to struggle so hard to live and to love.
How do we make peace with it?
For me, it came down to finally and fully accepting that my dad was human, just like me and everyone else. And that we all have our issues, some bigger than others.
In essence, that we‘re all diamonds encrusted in ice.
I look at it this way now: Each of us is a gem formed by the tender squeeze of divine hands, capable of brilliantly reflecting the creator’s love, compassion, laughter, kindness, and joy.
But there’s a catch. In order for us to shine, light has to be able to reach us and penetrate our carved, smooth surfaces. To travel all the way inside of us — to that shimmering center — and then reflect back out again.
We need light to shine.
And it often has a hard time finding its way in.
Our fears, our insecurities, our selfishness, our stored-up hurts, our neediness — many things build up in layers and harden around us. They form a rough, icy exterior that prevents anyone from seeing the diamond inside.
Some of us have thicker ice than others, but we‘re all frozen in many ways. And we tend to go through freeze-thaw cycles. There are moments when you can see someone really sparkle, others when all you feel from them is a chill.
I like to think that when we die, a shockwave of divine love strips away the ice and leaves only the diamond. Finally, the light can get into every nook, making us as shiny as any star.
Want to know what a person looks like in death? Look up into the night sky. They’ve never shined so brightly.
Good for them!
What about us?
We don’t have to wait until we die to start the melting process. We can thaw right now.
Love is the great de-icer. And it’s very versatile.
It melts from the inside. Each time we love, it radiates outward and loosens that icy grip.
Love also melts from the outside. It does its stuff every time we allow ourselves to be loved by a person who recognizes the diamond hidden beneath the ice and is willing to risk frostbite to help free it.
Little by little, the ice melts away. We become better able to reflect a light that’s always there, always looking for the tiniest little crack to make its way through the ice and get inside of us.
Drip by drip, we become the shiny little selves we’re meant to be.