Sunday, July 09, 2006

What happens when we die?

Word came this morning that my feisty Aunt Hazel Bowden, dad's little sister, has died in Bend, Oregon, at a ripe old age. She had been living at the far edge of her life for several years but was still full of life and tart reminders of how we Ketchams ought to be conducting ourselves.

When I made the decision to study for the UU ministry many years ago, Aunt Hazel was quick to tell me that she was sure my father, the Rev. Merritt B. Ketcham, was probably turning over in his grave at my defection from The True Faith. “I don’t know what you see in that Unitarian theology”, she wrote in her Christmas card. “It hurt your parents a lot when you left the Baptist church. I just don’t understand. Merry Christmas. Your loving aunt.”

Ouch. She was right, it had hurt my parents a lot when I left the Baptist church and I regretted that hurt. But it had given me a whole lot of comfort to leave behind a religious worldview that pinched, that gave little hope to those who lived outside its purview and to move into the practice of a faith that tried to include many points of view and to work for peace and justice in the world. I still considered myself a Christian, but not the kind of Christian Aunt Hazel would have preferred.

We managed to get past that confrontation and her love for me, the heretic, was undimmed. I'm sure she prayed for me regularly, which I appreciated, and I prayed for her too. And on my rare visits to Bend, we'd laugh about the old times, reminisce about my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Her husband Stan had died earlier and she missed him with every breath. Ken, their son, and Kay, his wife, were both gone now as well. And I imagine there's one heck of a Ketcham family reunion going on somewhere.

Because if my theory is on target, and who knows---it might be, we rise to a new level of understanding when we die. That seems big enough to me to encompass a whole lot of possibilities-----heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory, nirvana, bodhisattva-ness, reincarnation, whatever. Maybe even nothing-ness.

I guess it would be hubris to assume that, at the celestial Ketcham family reunion where all now have new understandings, I might finally be off the hook for my heretic heart. I'd like to assume that all my beloved family members, whose understanding of God is different from mine, now see that I'm right, that Unitarian Universalism really is the One True Faith and that I knew it all along.

But it's most likely that I too will rise someday to a new level of understanding and will see where all our yearnings and strivings and believings overlap and that I am no more right than they were--------and no more wrong.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


Braidwood said...

That was beautiful. I hope you are right and I'm glad you had such a cool aunt.

Anonymous said...

Aunt Hazel found her Christian faith later in her life. It took on deeper meaning as she struggled through personal tragedies some 20 - 30 years ago. She, like our mother, had the spiritual gift of giving. Hazel's last decade was spent ministering to the elderly and infirm... most much younger than she. Her body is still but her example lives on. We would do well by continuing her mission. BKetcham

Joel said...

I didn't know Aunt Hazel had died. Was she the last, or is there a sister left?

ms. kitty said...

Yes, she died in July. But there is one sister left, Aunt Nellie Mae Yundt, in Boise, and one sister-in-law, Aunt Neva Ketcham, in Redmond, OR. The Ketcham family is losing its elders. Or maybe just receiving new ones.

Joel said...

Aunt Hazel was just about the only one I had any memory of, although I think I med Aunt Ned (I'm pretty sure that was Nellie) when I was in high school. I remember going to Hazel and Stanley's cabin on the river when I was little, and Kenny brought Lisa to Goldendale for the eclipse in 1979.

I'm a little bummed, as I had been procrastinating getting in touch with Aunt Hazel because I understand she had a lot of family history that nobody else did. I've done some genealogical digging, but I'd have loved to hear her stories. It's no substitute.

ms. kitty said...

Yep, Aunt Nellie Mae is also Aunt Ned.

But I think Aunt Anna was the one with all the genealogical stuff, though she might have passed it on to Aunt Hazel when she died years ago.

Your cousin Lisa might have the info, though, and she is still living in Bend at Aunt H's place, I think. Your mom would have her address.