I attended a funeral this morning.
The gentleman who had died had been a long-time member of our church. I didn’t know him very well, although I had often observed him from afar. He had always been kind to me, and that I remember of course. But even more than that, I remember his consistent, faithful love of God and of others.
I remember this past summer when, even though he was battling cancer, he showed up each and every night for Vacation Bible School. Not to watch, but to serve. Every Single Night.
I remember this past fall, when he continued to serve as an usher, even though walking had become difficult for him. He carefully balanced the offering plate on his walker as he slowly made his way up the aisle.
I remember just two short weeks ago when he attended the Christmas eve service, his eyes closed and head nodding to the music. I knew in those moments that he knew it would be his last. I wondered what his thoughts were. I wondered how his soul was.
After hearing our pastor give the eulogy and sermon during the funeral service this morning, and hearing more about the character of this man, I think that probably his soul–the deepest part of who he is–was good that night. And that his thoughts on Christmas Eve were on his God. He longed to be with his God, face to face, and not as if looking through a mirror dimly.
But oh, how his friends and family miss him.
My heart ached for our pastor who was in tears this morning as he spoke. My heart ached for this man’s family as they said goodbye to their dad, and their grandpa. My heart ached for my friend sitting two rows in front as me, as he struggled to wipe away the tears. My heart ached for so many of his friends, all who were grieving this morning as they said “goodbye”.
It is so hard to say “Goodbye” to those we love. And, this man was loved.
Death is a grievous thing. It hurts. We miss those whom we love, who have died. We miss them in all that missing entails…..we long deeply for their presence. In the case of illnesses, we do not wish to prolong their suffering of course, but that doesn’t diminish the missing. We despise the cancer, the heart disease, the infection, the Alzheimer’s, the diabetes that took them from us. In the case of sudden, unexpected deaths, no matter the circumstances, we are often left bewildered. Stunned. Stunned and grieving.
Missing them hurts.
I don’t know that the “hurt” ever truly goes away. It changes–if you will–into more of a dull ache as time relentless marches on. The sharp edges become more curved, the very acuteness of it becomes more smooth, but it doesn’t go away.
I have a friend who, in the midst of struggling through another holiday without her mom who died a little over two years ago, made a comment about how holidays hurt. And she’s right, they do. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t also fun and joyful and beautiful and amazing. They are. But the “missing” is still there. It always is still there.
I know, because I still long for those I love who have died. I miss my mom. I miss my grandpa. I miss others. Some much too hard to even mention here.
Why did God create us in this manner—that we would sharply miss those who have died? That we would love people so deeply that their death would wreck us? That spouses would mourn, that children would mourn, that brothers and sisters and friends and colleagues would mourn?
I don’t know.
I don’t know, but maybe some of the root of it lies in the reverse. Maybe some of it lies in the truth that if we didn’t experience mourning and grief when someone we love deeply dies, we wouldn’t treasure those in our lives who are alive and sitting in the room or car or sanctuary or restaurant with us. As our pastor mentioned this morning, he has hugged his kids a bit tighter this week.
And, maybe some of it lies in the truth that the longing we feel for those who are no longer with us is a deep but small microcosm of the “Sehnsucht” that C.S. Lewis often describes—a broader “inconsolable longing” for the “Weight of Glory” that we find in these “not-nothing” verses of 2 Corinthians:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
We grieve, because we long. We say “Goodbye” and it hurts, because we long.
But even our grieving and hurting is light, momentary affliction. O, it doesn’t seem that way. I know. I know, good grief, how I know! I promise you, I know. But we who believe that scripture is truth and that God is God must believe also that these words in 2 Corinthians are also truth, and that even in our wrecked-ness, even in our gut-wrenching grief, we are being prepared for things we can not begin to comprehend or understand. Things we long for even though we know not exactly what those things are. The very things of God.
But, o my soul, it hurts, to say “good-bye”.