Death, A Daily Reality

leaves

Weddings, babies, and graduation ceremonies are what I thought would fill the duration of my post-college years. But, instead I find myself attending the funeral of one of my best friends and then hearing about the sudden death of several other young people in my community. Life is weird.

For some I suppose this is a daily reality. Those in war-torn countries, people in crime infested neighborhoods. Maybe I was just spared this type of grief in my growing up years. In former days, death was the stuff of news articles, statistics, and maybe a distant relative or an old church member. Now, death proceeds from the mouth of a friend still in shock, it arrives in a church announcement, a phone call in the night.

Yesterday at church, I stood on stage with the worship team. Looking out into the congregation I saw so many grieving faces. A church elder got up and shared about the 20-year-old murder victim who was closely connected to members of our church. My heart sank as I shuffled the pages on my music stand before we started the next song.

Death is horrible. Now that I’ve experienced it I don’t retract in fear like I once did. Instead of being afraid of death I’m just disheartened by it. What is there to fear when you’ve already lost a very close friend? I feel united with my friends who are grieving. I look into their dimmed eyes and say, “I too lost a best friend.”

Not fearful however I can’t help but ask myself, who is next? What person in my life will be the next to go? Where will I be when I hear the earth-shattering news that yet another person has left this earth? Maybe it will be me. I rise in the morning and wonder if today is my last, and I go to bed at night thinking I may awake in a place called eternity. At a grief seminar last week I realized it’s good to come to terms with death, to ponder your own death. Just because you want to die doesn’t mean you’re suicidal.

I know this post is a little scattered but to make sense of death is very difficult. Once the griever, now I feel called to be the comforter. How do you comfort a grieving friend? What do you say to a father who has just lost his son, or a sister who has lost her only brother?

I am comforted by one thing only. The Lord is here. The Lord is with you. Most of the time there are no words or deeds to mend a grieving heart. But the simple act of being with someone can make the grieving process a great deal better.

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How to grieve when the world moves on

sunflower-sun-summer-yellow

Johnny’s sister mentioned something to me this week about the world moving on when we are still sad and still hurting.

There is a tendency to stop and just sit down, like we did in the grass by his grave. To linger in the moment, as my mind seems to return to the night it happened. To stop buying food. To stop eating. To stop working or reading or updating social media.

What do you do when the world is moving on, when all that stopped for John’s death has recommenced its course?  How can you, when you are still grieving the loss of a most beloved soul?

Still.

It’s a strange word, as if the aftermath of a sudden death could ever come to recovery. The word “still implies that we will eventually be okay. Can I agree with this? Some say it will take a year, others claim two years. But since the sudden death of John, I feel we shall never be the same on this side of heaven.

The world has moved on. It has already changed since Johnny left. The grocery stores are decorated for the holidays, the wind has unclothed the warm-colored trees, and darkness sets in before the day is over.

The world is moving on, and people are talking of winter decor and seasonal Starbucks drinks. I listen, trying to enjoy this time of year like I always do. But then I look down at my chest and see a fresh wound still bleeding, still hurting. When my thoughts return to that night my heart aches. I search for something to ease the pain.

I cry. I don’t cry. I hold it in. I don’t hold it in. But still, there is no remedy for death.

Grief is a ruthless enemy. It strikes when you least expect it. It hits you while you’re down. It comes from behind and descends like a cold November rain.

I’m realizing that I cannot just move on as the world has. I cannot come out of this, unchanged. And one thing in particular that must change is time with God. If anything, death should draw me nearer to Him. It surely has. But still, I need something to combat this ruthless enemy.  A lamp to guide my steps as the world is moving on.

Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

Death was not intended for us

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” — John Donne

graveyard

I was sitting in the cozy part of the university student center, near the coffee shop. A blog post I’d shared on social media had brought an unexpected flood of attention. I scrolled through my analytics and realized I’d hit a record of blog views in one day, reaching eleven different countries in readership. I’d only shard it so my sister could find the link, but I must admit the response was rewarding.

My phone buzzed with a text from a friend about my post. He reminded me that God did not intend for us to die.

My last post addressed the issues involved in death and the reality of grief. I asked the question of why people have to die. Lately, I’ve been asking God this same question every time I think of John. I’m okay that John died. I know where he is and I know he is alright. But I’m not okay with death. Nor am I at ease with the thought that every relationship in life will end in sadness. It’s a difficult reality to swallow. Not only will every relationship end — this alone is disheartening — but every relationship will end in pain and sadness.

Great, what a life we have before us.

But, my friend who reminded me that God did not intend for us to die, also reminded me that we should take comfort in this truth. I once wrote that there is no comfort in death. Death is a result of sin and I’m learning to see that in Christ we can overcome sin. I know what you are thinking. Can we cheat death? No. But can we overcome the power of death, not the reality of it? To this I say yes.

I was waiting for my evening class to begin as I pondered this thought. The sun was disappearing, the night was drawing in and I realized that lately I’ve been thinking of death as the ultimate outcome.

I keep returning to this one bible character who walked with the Lord all his life. I can’t remember his name or which book he was recorded in. I heard a pastor say this man walked with the Lord straight into heaven. An ideal way to go. Death for the people in this world appears to be the ultimate outcome, but ultimate would imply that it is final. Although death is the finish line on this side of heaven, it is also the starting point on the other side.

My sadness for Johnny was first brought on by a longing to be with him, then it became a fear of facing death in this world over and over again until it was my turn to suffer this final enemy. I don’t know what I think of death now. But it doesn’t seem quite as scary as it first did. Not with the remembrance that God never intended for us to die.

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.” — Holy Sonnets; Death, Be Not Proud

A Grave Visitation

Friday was the one month anniversary since John died. His best friend and I went to the grave to pay our respects. I wasn’t ready for it. The night before I tossed and turned until I found myself in the kitchen chugging a glass of water to replenish the tears I’d cried in my bed.

The graveyard is an easy half hour drive from the city. A quiet countryside surrounds it with square farmlands and big roofed houses. Gravel crunched beneath our feet as we silently approached the grave. I trembled with pulsing thoughts that said, I’m not ready for this.

It was one of those moments in life that you never expect to live. To be in your early twenties approaching the grave of your dear childhood friend, on a Friday afternoon in November. Isn’t this the time of life when you’re thinking about who you should marry, or what job you should pursue, or what countries you want to visit?

How surreal it is to visit the dead. They hadn’t set a tombstone, so we stopped at the bed of grass that was raised up from the ground with the bouquet of flowers from the funeral at the foot of it. They were white and wilted with long green stems and their petals were starting to brown at the edges. It felt odd, the two of us looming over this plot of grass where his body was laid. So I told him we should sit down.  And so we did, and then we wept. . .

“I wish there was a tombstone,” I remarked. I’d pictured this moment in my head since the day my brother said we’d occasionally have to visit the grave. I wanted to see his name and the date and the bible scripture his parents had chosen to engrave in the stone. But no. There was just the earth and the flowers and the sky and the absence.

It was indeed surreal, too surreal to recount. Not pleasant, not healing, not restorative. Just sad. Sad that people have to die. Sad to think I too will lie in the earth someday. Sad to consider how many times we will return to this spot to grieve the loss of our dear friend.

Two is better than one. I’m glad I went with his best friend. We cried together. We prayed together. We sat in silence heaving deep breaths of autumn air, while flicking bugs off of us and listening to John’s favorite album through an iPhone speaker.

Leaving was harder than coming. As we drove away with the gravel crunching beneath the tires, I wept again, feeling the absence of John so very strongly. It would no longer be  the three of us.

***

Another week begins. And I am doing better. I was feeling so distant from God lately that I sat in church yesterday and waited patiently for a word from him. He met me in the back pew with a passage from Romans 8.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

I woke this morning ready to declare my usual greetings to God, but all I could manage to say was, “Thank you for grace.”