Grief comes in many flavors and all of them are bitter. The death of a child. The death of a parent. The death of a spouse, friend, or even a pet. All bitter.
Right now I’m tasting the death of a sibling. My 58-year old brother Mark died four months ago. It tastes like turnip greens on a toddler tongue. I’m pretty much spitting it out even though I have tasted grief before: when my baby died the day she was born. When my mom died at the age I am right now. When my dad died in hospice care.
It’s all quite bitter and I’m telling my Father God this time too: no thanks.
Why? You can guess why. The cloud of sorrow still hovers. My soul aches. My heart wishes for a chance to tell him I love him. My mind is full of confusion some days, wishing he was here, yet glad he’s free from pain; loving the memories we shared, yet absolutely hating that there’ll be no more.
I also have a hard time going to work every day. Life seems too short to be pursuing a paycheck. I feel like I ought to be ministering full time, or traveling somewhere, or seizing a day instead of running the rat race. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that the death of a sibling makes my mortality way too touchable. I can taste my funeral.
Have you been there?
Functioning, but not really?
Going through life’s motions with half a heart; and a brain ready to explode; and tears sitting on your eyeballs?
In a room full of people; lonely amid the clueless, those who have moved on, those who don’t realize you’re barely holding it together.
How about the guilt for being alive? How about the memories? Sparked by a certain smell, or a particular song, or passing by that empty bed, or scrolling past that contact on your phone that you refuse to erase?
I scrolled my messages the other day hoping I could find a voicemail from Mark. No such luck.
Tonight I scrolled God’s messages, his Word, that well of truth and comfort I draw from at times like these. And of course I found myself in John 11 where two sisters – one named Mary – grieved deeply for their dead brother.
Christ’s tender words to Martha reminded me that soon after I became a Christian, I bought a poster with John 11. 25-26 emblazed on it. I hung it in my college dorm room in the fall of 1981, such impactful words for an 18-year old kid to celebrate. Words this 52-year old still needs: Your brother will rise again.
The poster read:
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this? I felt Jesus asking me.
“Yes, Lord, I believe.”
Mark believed too. In his final hours, I have no doubt that the presence of Christ was real and felt deeply. I have to remind myself it wasn’t bitter at all for Mark. Meeting Jesus was sweet.
And so it will be for me. When I meet Christ when I die or when I meet him in my living room. There is sweet peace in Christ’s presence. He cares that my brother died and he wants to comfort me.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34.8