I have a strange fascination with grief, probably coming from death being my biggest fear– death of someone I love, death of my husband, death for me. It’s somewhat unreasonable how afraid I am of death, considering I am a person who believes that this life is not the end, that there is more, and that it will bring us into the very presence of God. I am also a person who believes that life wasn’t meant to be this way, that God didn’t create us to suffer and die.
And I think that’s one reason why we grieve. Because sometimes we have to watch people suffer, watch them fade away. There is great pain in seeing the image of God pass away as it was never meant to.
When I was almost seventeen, my twenty-three-year-old cousin died in a car accident. It was unexpected and painful. I remember it quite vividly. It had happened very early in the morning. My mom usually woke my younger sister and I up for school, but that morning I woke up by myself. I knew something was up because we were late, so I walked out of my bedroom through our dining room into the kitchen, where my older brother was on the phone, with his face turned away from me. At that moment, my parents came in the back door at the other end of the kitchen. I could tell by the tone of my brother’s voice and the look on my parents’ faces that something terrible had happened. And I didn’t want to hear it. My mom walked toward me through our narrow kitchen and started to tell me, but I didn’t want to hear it, whatever it was. I tried to back away, but the dining room table was in the way and I bumped into a chair. “Your cousin Robbie was in an accident and he died.” My mom reached me as she finished the sentence and I crumpled to the floor.
When my sister woke up a little later and my dad told her what happened, she and I just sat on the couch, crying. We cried so hard, I felt like maybe we’d cry forever. I remember thinking, How will I ever stop crying? How will this pain ever go away? It just hurt too much.
There is a certain cruelty in this life, in watching people die or having them taken away without a chance to say goodbye. No matter how it happens, it hurts. How is it that time heals such profound pain? Or does it? Do we heal or do we just learn to live without them and push the pain aside?
It’s one of the worst things we have to endure, losing someone we care about. There’s pain in just missing them– of not being able to talk to them, to tell them things you know they’d like to know about. There’s pain in knowing there is no more life for them, that they won’t get to do the things they love anymore. There’s pain in imagining the things they will never experience– the children who will grow up without them, the accomplishments that will be celebrated without them, the marriages and birthdays and holidays that will be held without them.
There is a certain cruelty in being left behind, left here to continue on, when… how? How do you go on when you’ve been left behind here in this life that is so cruel and unjust and sad. I think for many of us, there is a part of our hearts that wants to go too, to no longer feel the hurt of suffering and losing, living surrounded by all these lives that will one day end. All the most beautiful, most honorable, most loving, all will fade and die. Sometimes this is a just a hard life to live. It sucks and it hurts and it feels sad and unfair and overwhelming and painful.
Losing someone you know and love, and watching other people you know and love lose someone, are hard, terrible things, the worst of all things. And that makes our God’s salvation and promises more poignant and sweet. And it makes his command of us– to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves– urgent. Time does run out. So if we’re not loving, what are we doing?