The longer you live, the more funerals you attend. It’s just the way God designed our earthly lot. We have a portion of days on earth and then we die to go be with God. But before we die, we become acquainted with Grief.
Death is already an unwelcome guest, like Mayhem in the Allstate commercials, only worse. Death is an off-the-Richter-Scale earthquake that obliterates our lives. Then we’re forced to rebuild with Grief as a companion. It seems so cruel. Especially since the Grief of burying our parents is not the same Grief of burying a friend, a child, a sibling, or a spouse. Grief is schizophrenic.
So, long after the last casserole has been delivered from the church, Grief knocks on the door every day. Or sometimes he barges in unannounced, and we never know what he’s cooked up for us.
Today it’s disbelief: she was sick and died; he was in an accident and died; ; he grew old and died; she lost her battle with fill-in-the-blank
Tomorrow’s it’s sighing and sorrow.
Next week, it’s anger with God.
Next year – if Grief is kind – it will be acceptance and the joy of memories.
The kindness of Grief is a great irony, but worthy of note because:
Grief acquaints us with Appreciation: After someone dies, we value more than ever, the many ways that individual blessed our lives. Then we learn to appreciate those who are still with us, noticing the good in them, the support they provide, the love they show. I never appreciated my mom until she died when I was 24. Twenty-nine years later, I understand and appreciate who she was as a middle-aged woman like I am now.
Grief acquaints us with Compassion: There is nothing worse than a well-intended friend telling you to praise the Lord when you are grieving. Even Jesus wept over the sorrows of death, after all. Once we’ve met Grief we understand the need for tears, denial, anger and all that Grief dishes up. Grieving people need friends who don’t shame them for their sorrows and questioning. So Compassion – now joining us on this journey – enables us to support others who are grieving. That is a very good thing.
Grief acquaints us with Purpose: Funerals have a way of prodding us out of our idle lives into fresh goal setting. Life is short and we don’t have forever to make a difference for Christ; to serve our neighbors; to check off the bucket list. My brother’s death last June – in addition to being a truly devastating loss in my life – prompted me to evaluate my career. I’m now pursuing a life-long dream as a direct result of Grief.
Grief acquaints us with Hope: The day my dad decided to stop dialysis treatments he confessed, “I don’t want to die.” It was a heartbreaking statement after a difficult decision, but it came after an awful day of complaining. My dad could certainly be ornery at times, this odd mix of Fred Sanford, Archie Bunker, and George Jefferson. The day before his decision to die, my brothers and I were at a loss about what to do for him, now bedridden and declining steadily.
But Dad called us to his bedside that morning and told us about a dream he had the night before. He said he was at “The Kennedy House” the only way he could describe the mansion in his dream. He spoke of how big and beautiful it was, and how “people were loving me in a way I didn’t deserve.” I was struck by this imagery, knowing he would never fabricate such a story for the sake of making us feel better. I deeply believe his dream was from God because the hope of such a place helped my dad face Death. In the subsequent days, he said the words, “I love you” to people who had never heard it before, including me.
I have friends who have told similar stories of their loved ones having a vision of heaven, or being called by Jesus to come home before they died. Such images offer consolation when we wonder if our loved ones were saved when they died. Or if they were alone when they died, we can have hope that Christ was near.
So Grief. I love to hate you. You are not a friend, but deep down, I know you are not an enemy either. For God designed our earthly lot to include meeting you so we could also be introduced to Heaven’s Hope.
Jesus said: Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. 2 My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. 3 I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. John 14.1-3