Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Last Kiss.

"It was early in October
on our little farm in Gardners
when we lost our little brother
in the pond beside the barn"

Frances Drost
Beside the Barn

This old photo of our pond on the farm in Gardners was recently sent to me by a relative.
Perfect timing for this blog.
I asked my older sister, Aspen, if she'd be willing to share how she experienced the death of our brother, Nathan.

So in the words of Aspen....

"I remember walking up the lane with Mother and Adriel (our older brother) – where was Frances?!

It strikes me now, after all the study I have done around death, how exceptional and important an act it was that Mother carried Nathan in her arms from the pond to the end of the lane, and then up to the house. There is something about feeling the weight, having the body register experientially the sensation, the reality of the death of the loved one.

When I first wrote my talk about death (see below) I did not even clue in on this subtlety but I get it now. Here is my own story of how I (Aspen) encountered death as a 7 year old, and again at 21 – how these predicaments with actual dead bodies became my most poignant moments of encountering death."

Aspen's "talk" about her experience with Nathan's death:

"My first encounter with death was when I was about 7 and my little brother, Nathan, was 2, and he drowned in the pond on our farm. That was 1966, in Gardners, Pennsylvania. My older brother was 8 and our little sister was 6 months old. I was at my girlfriend’s house up the road. A call came that I needed to go home right away. The scene at the end of the lane stopped me from getting too close – there was my mother, and I guess the doctor, and perhaps a neighbor, all there, bent over and busily doing something….. it was CPR they were doing. An unsuccessful attempt, as it turned out. I was looking at my first dead body.

They took Nathan up the lane to the farmhouse, laid him on a blanket on the living room floor. It was a long evening. Thinking about it now, it was this time with Nathan that made all the difference…. To be in our own house, in the middle of our living room where we played and had birthday parties, where we had Christmas, where we made forts, where we practiced the piano.

To see that he wasn’t getting up.

To see that he wasn’t sleeping.

This was serious.

There was now a gap between us the living siblings and our dead one, a gap we couldn’t grasp but at least there was time – time to take in a kind of sweet rawness about just being there, being in our own living room; just having time to take it in. And when the undertaker came to take Nathan, and my mother cried desperately “– you can’t take him! you can’t have him!” (My father wasn’t back from his conference yet and she couldn’t fathom all of this happening without him there.)

They wrapped Nathan in a blanket and just before they took him away my mother said she gave us, my brother and I, “the privilege of kissing him.”

The last time I saw Nathan was at the funeral at Air Hill Church. I remember two details: That we sang this song – When He Cometh, When He Cometh, and I distinctly recall my mother leading us up to the casket before it was closed for the last time, her leaning, and kissing the face of Nathan. Then, she wanted my brother and I to do the same. I wanted to, but not really wanting to, and doing it anyway.

Orville, Bertha, Adriel and Aspen viewing Nathan, at the funeral home in Mt. Holly Springs, PA.
So began my spiritual and cultural immersion with death— how we love the dead.

What we do with the dead. How the community and larger family responds.

I watched as my parents moved through this territory.

They did not shield us.

They didn’t think about shielding us."