“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you don’t just live in a world, but a world lives in you.” Frederick Buechner
It just keeps happening.
Young people dying.
I know of several young people who have died in the last several days. One of them was my cousin. I know that it happens all over the world in every culture every day.
My heart is breaking for their parents. The are-you-sure-you-have-the-right-person, knocks-you to-your-knees, shocking phone call that changes your entire life. Then having to make many phone calls of your own to tell others of the death. It is very difficult to speak the words. Having to choose a casket, or an urn. Plan a funeral. I had never thought of planning my child’s funeral. Where will the burial be? If there must be an autopsy, you can’t help wonder; what in this whole wild world does it feel like to hold another human being’s heart in your own humble hands? Do they feel the hugeness of it? The warmth and the tenderness of it?
You must remind yourself to breathe. To take each moment by each moment by each moment.
The simple joy of getting groceries turns into a sort of haunting of memories, intensifying the voluminous void. You walk the aisles forgetting you don’t need to get their favorite foods anymore until you remember, with severe sadness, that they are not there anymore and the place where they sit at the table will never be sat in by them again. There will be no more late night snacks and chats around the kitchen counter talking about the weighty wonder of their one precious life.
You sit on their bed at home staring into the closet and dresser full of clothes that smell like them and each piece holds a story from the last time they wore them. All of the “lasts” torment you and comfort you all at the same time and you feel like you are going to burst. You want to remember everything and never ever forget what they smelled like, what they felt like, what they looked like, how they laughed and how they cried, how they hugged you and loved you. You crawl into their bed to smother yourself in their scent. Your heart hurting and heavy, hiding under their favorite blankets.
It can be a challenge to figure out all the right passwords for the computer and phone, wondering what’s important to keep or not to keep and what to do about it all, when all you really want is to keep them. But they are just so not here. Regrettably, it is required in certain situations to provide the death certificate upon demand for proof of death. Like our teary eyes and fallen faces and thumping hearts do not tell the truth.
How to mark the birth-days, the death-days? How to mark their stories? Their lives? There are so many-might-have-beens that feel significantly mournful. Without diminishing those, we must also embrace the moments of the present… which are all grace. All, gift.
Grieving is not something that you ever get over. Perhaps it becomes less intense and ever consuming with some degree of time. It seems to find its place on the inside of you, actually becoming retributive in its own unexpected way, inspiring you to be a larger-souled person. It has been some time since our son died yet when others die, it tends to stir up familiar frightening fears that lay dormant in me as I remember the depth of despair and harrowing sorrow. I sense the heightening uneasiness of impending danger and the torment of wondering who is going to die next. Hidden heartache has a way of latching itself onto the very atoms of your being, forever becoming a part of you. Sparked by all sorts of sensory impressions, it oozes out, reminding you it is still there, still reforming you.
There is much reforming yet to be done in my soul. It is important not to panic, not to run away in the writhing disquiet, to face the fear. Not to try to tidy myself up to appear to have things more together than I really do. It is a revealing of a much deeper need.
A need to see, to believe, what God is really like not what I thought He was like. Pain compels us to ask terrifying questions about life and death and love and God. “God” is not abstract. God is real and He has battled death. He is a live, relational, life-giving Father who from eternity has been delighting in His Son and His Son in Him. They invite us into their eternal, encircling love. Love that has changed the meaning of death. A love that changes us.
A love that is stronger than death.
Death has shattered many illusions, and some dreams too. Death is eminent for us all. None of us are long for this world. But this world is not all there is; things are not entirely as they seem. Of course we are broken-hearted and bleeding raw over the deaths of our children. Sometimes, the heaving sobs just won’t stop. Is it possible to feel the pain yet not let it be the center of our life? How do we hold both joy and sorrow, wonderful and awful, life and death? Can we, will we, think really hard about what it means to love others deeply, intensely, in spite of our pain, our fears, our loss?
Sometimes, I think I can hear God’s tears falling along with mine. What is that like for Him, I wonder? The shuddering shiver of all those tears for the whole crying world? He can identify with our tears and our fears. Our hopes. Our dreams. Even the shattered ones. What an extraordinary thing that God has overcome suffering by suffering with and for the whole world.
Come…. Let us run…. Run with our whole, holy, hurting heart. Run, drip by bloody drip, to the sticking place. The sticking place of courage. Of hope. Of an eternal love that will not fail, not ever. Run, to Him. Where else would we go? Who or what else could sustain us? He is our sticking place. We will feel the fathomless mystery of life and of death and of love and we will be grateful to be a part of it all. We will love others with the enduring, everlasting, undying, imperishable love with which God loves us.
Of course we will flounder and fail and flourish and tender parts of us will ache.
We will hold the tender and enfold the ache and it will be our prayer.