Grief from the Other Side
April 11, 2012"I lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth..." These words from Psalm 121 came to my mind and heart on Tuesday morning about 1:30 a.m. King James Version, no less. Somehow the psalms are often in my memory in KJV. Tears welled and I got out of bed with a heart full of grief... right here on the Tuesday after Easter. Where is the joy that cometh in the morning? Yesterday, Easter Monday, news came early. Mike is dead; he died in his sleep. His son thought he was sleeping. Mike is my 42 year old nephew. He lifts weights and runs an internet business with his wife. He is father of three children, 10, 7, and 3. Natural causes they said. And in a breath the fabric of a family is torn apart, not unlike the Scripture describes happening at the Crucifixion. When I spoke to my brother, Mike's Dad, he was at the funeral home and they were making burial plans. The Dallas preacher was there with them. My brother was questioning me. Why are there so many euphemisms and platitudes about God and Jesus? This is real; this is hard. The rawness of this loss cannot be glossed over. Sometimes we need time in the grief. Sometimes we need to scream at God and the moon and the sun and everything else that continues to live. As a pastor, I have been with the dying and with the grieving really often. I have planned funerals and written homilies. I have comforted and consoled. People have asked me, "how can you do what you do without crying?" Truth is, I can't. But my training and my experience have taught me that I can be no good for God or for people if my emotions run away with me. So I pray deeply and steel myself in the promises I believe, that life does not end. That we are just one breath away from one another in this world and the next. That love is strong as death; it never ends. My faith and my witness are on the line in this one. My "whys" are present alongside my doubts. Why was there not time to say goodbye? Why do unhealthy or mean or blah blah blah - you name it -people get to live long and unproductive lives, while a young, vibrant, contributing member of a loving family dies long before his time? Here is my own response: We don't have a choice when death comes. And death will come, guaranteed. We may not have time to say all the things we need to say to one another. So everyday needs to be a day of reconciliation and all words need to be words of healing. We may not have a choice about death, but we do have a choice about how we live the life we have in this minute. My witness cannot be empty platitudes, and pat phrases I have read in Helen Steiner greeting cards. Grief is real and raw and painful and hard to bear. And the hole that is torn can only be patched that we may keep living. Authentic faith is the only response to real pain and grief. I cannot sidestep this one, nor can the rest of my family. Everyday, we will have to put on our big girl/boy pants and keep trucking through the sorrow. I will not preach Mike's funeral homily. I will sit this one on the other side as sister and aunt. I will have tissues in my pocket and a psalm in my heart. The Lord is steadfast in abounding love. He who watches over Israel never slumbers nor sleeps; he will not let your foot be moved. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Bits and pieces of song will fill the other side of grief. How can I keep from singing? God bless Wendy, Colton, Kaleigh, Addy, Richard, Doll, John, Wendy, Hannah, Abby, all the Magees and all the Strouds. And God keep Mike. He is a precious soul who will be missed on this side. Amen.