I have a rather obnoxious aunt who, when someone we knew had passed away, would interrupt our silent mourning to gleefully chant in her obscenely loud voice, "It comes in threes, you know! It always comes in threes! Wonder who'll be next! Hope it's not you!" Then she would repeat the chant to every person present and name the possible second or third person based on their relative health or age.
Because this particular aunt has an IQ nowhere near genius level (shocking), she's a fairly easy target when she does things like that. Each time her relentless chant would begin, I would quietly approach her, tap her on the shoulder, and solemnly say, "No. I'm sorry, but I'm certain it always comes in ones." She would stop mid-sentence, think about what I said, then explain the validity of her "comes in threes" theory, adding concrete examples of how the threes had come to friends and relatives in her life.
I would wait until she finished, then add to each of her sets of deceased people one more person who had died within weeks of her third. Calmly, I would wait as she became more and more agitated, searching for reasons why my "fourth" didn't count and as she argued with me I would resume my assertion that the only real answer is that death comes in ones. Of course I won, not because I was right but because I was tenacious. She simply became tired of arguing with me. She would slump away from me muttering, "I still believe it comes in threes. Everyone says so. It comes in threes."
I assume she still does the same thing. Fortunately, I grew up and moved far away from her, leaving her desperately clinging to her "comes in threes" belief. It's probably best. Everyone needs something to believe in strongly, even if such a belief is ghoulishly declaring the death of a third person each time two other deaths occur.
I'm thinking of this today because three people I love have died in the past two days. The first is Carla. She died after an incredibly courageous battle with cancer. She left her husband and two sweet babies behind, not to mention thousands of people, myself included, who love and admire her like crazy.
The second is an elderly woman I've known for about 15 years. She had no children. She was a clean freak (as was her husband). They had a carpeted garage. She was a retired school teacher who never took herself very seriously. On the rare occasions when I was not in callings that kept me from attending Relief Society, she was one of the instructors. One week she was teaching and she told us she was very nervous--then said that if we didn't believe her, she would like to point out that she had been unable to decide which earrings to wear that morning. She found two pairs and debated between them for about twenty minutes, then began hurrying so she wouldn't be late for church. When she arrived she discovered she was wearing one earring from each pair. She said she would be teaching the lesson in profile so that we could get the full benefit of the different earrings. Then she giggled with us.
The third is the father of one of my closest high school friends who was also my family physician when growing up. He was a doctor when my father was in high school and still practicing on a limited basis until very recently. I believe his name is legendary throughout the community he served--he even has a street named after him. I'm guessing no one can count the number of babies he delivered. His eldest son passed away earlier this year and his first wife died about 15 years ago.
Death is a part of life. It's natural and someday it will happen to me. But no matter how prepared one might be, death carries with it an unavoidable sting and when you love the person who has died, grieving is inevitable. Today I'm missing those loved ones and wishing for a way to ease the pain of those who were closest to them, and I'm getting a little bit tired of crying.
Also today, I'm praying that the tenet fiercely proclaimed by my aunt is correct. I'm ready for people to live.