Death is such a strange part of life. Most of us spend our lifetimes trying to avoid our own death, and when someone we love has died, we struggle to know how to respond. This last week, my stepdad passed away suddenly overnight. We knew it was coming, but just not so soon. He went into hospice care about two weeks before he died, and his health had been declining. However, we had hoped along with him that his health would improve. But last Tuesday, that phone call came at about 7:15 from my mom, telling me that he was gone.
This last week grief has come in waves for me and the rest of my family. I typically grieve alone, but today during church, tears just fell from my face as we sang about Jesus’ love for all of us. Despite the fact that we all miss my dad, we know that he is no longer suffering and that he was welcomed into heaven by Jesus. There is this bittersweet feeling with death that is so strange. We are glad that the person we love isn’t in pain any longer, and yet we want to hold onto them as much as we can.
Tomorrow my mom is going to take clothes to the mortuary for my dad. Yesterday, we sat in her living room looking at hats that he used to wear. We discussed which one would be best for Les to wear – his knit hat that he wore most of the winter, his Maple Leaves hat that was falling apart, or something newer. It was a weird discussion because we are the only ones who care. Those he has left behind.
As I sat in the funeral home with my mom on Friday, the funeral director went over all of the possibilities for arrangements for my dad. She focused on what she knew that my mom wanted to do for him, but she also went over some of the more extravagant things that people do for their loved ones. Apparently, we can now send some of our loved one’s ashes into space so that they can orbit the planet and then eventually reenter the Earth’s atmosphere like a shooting star. We can also memorialize our loved one’s fingerprint on a piece of jewelry that we can wear around our necks or on our fingers. And we can take our loved one’s ashes and turn them into a diamond that we can carry with us. Strange…and yet these are the things we can do when someone dies.
Why is death so strange? Is there something within us that believes that we will live forever? There are some who try to control their fate in life by eating the same things every day, by following a strict exercise regiment, by limiting where they go to avoid any potential accident or mishap. And yet, despite our best efforts, we will all die. And death doesn’t come pleasantly for everyone. Death isn’t always kind. And sometimes death is awkward and humiliating.
Over my lifetime, I have lost several loved ones. My grandpa was the first when I was only about five or six. The cemetery was strange and eerie. The funeral home was somber and creepy. The whole thing freaked me out. Then, my grandma followed him almost ten years later. At that time, I was a little more comfortable with the concept of death, but seeing her in an open casket was weird and I knew then that she wasn’t there. Accepting my grandparents’ deaths was not difficult for me because I knew that they were both in poor health.
Later in life, I experienced the deaths of two of my students that were sudden: one was a drug overdose and the other an apparent suicide. Because of the brevity of their lives, I grieved for weeks, questioning why these young men died with so much to look forward to in life. Jason’s funeral was so traumatic for me that I could not get up enough courage to attend Andrew’s memorial. Their lives were precious, but they were lost so early. Death was violent with these two, and I was not as accepting of their passing.
This last week, I have grieved alone and in front of others. I have sobbed in my bed and in my car. I have let big, fat tears roll down my face in public. I have cried until my eyes were swollen and my head hurt. But I have also laughed and remembered the amazing man who helped to raise me. His death sucks – there is no way around that. We were not ready for him to go even though we knew that death would be better for him given his declining health. We all wanted him to improve, but we reluctantly accepted that it wouldn’t.
And even though I have accepted his death, the whole thing is still strange. There he was, but he was not. His body was there, but he was gone. His blue eyes twinkling with some new story to tell, his smirk just waiting to tell some tale. Those were gone. His kindness when he married my mom and took in four children not his own and yet now his. His love of hockey and his fanaticism over trains. His care and compassion for children in his years of education. Those were gone but still present in the lives of those he loved.
Death is a part of life that we have to accept. It is strange and uncomfortable and awkward and humiliating and terrifying. But be encouraged that by living a life of love that we will never be gone. We will live in eternity with Jesus and we will live in the hearts and minds of our loved ones. We cannot live forever in bodily form, but we can live forever through our good works and through our faith in Christ.