I am tired of people dying. I am weary of losing those I love.
My friend and mentor, Brent, died in a rock climbing accident fifteen years ago, and I am still caught off guard every once in a while when I hear him laugh in my ear when I am trying too hard to be helpful to people.
My brother Dick died of esophageal cancer eight years ago, and I still see his wry smile out of the corner of my eye, especially when I work a pun into a dinner conversation.
My mom Mary died five years ago after sixty seven years of marriage to my father. A few weeks ago, without thinking, I picked up the phone to call her. I couldn’t believe I had done it, but such is the ingrained desire to hear her sweet curiosity and the simple musings about the day.
I had a miscarriage.
My nephew Ryan died suddenly last December, and I ache as afternoon light gets low and we trek into the holidays; sometimes doubling over in pain for my sister and the hemorrhage in her mother’s heart.
My sweet canine companion of thirteen years, Cito, died a noble death last January. Her form tracks me on trails.
My father-in-law Roland died a few weeks ago from aggressive cancer we did not know he had, so this time the invitation is to walk into the waters of grief on behalf of my Steve’s kind heart as he grieves all who his father was, and was not, to him. Steve’s loss is familiar, but I have no way of predicting how his waters will swell and roll.
Such is grief. Capricious, unpredictable, comforting and honoring, rending, exhausting. It has a mind of its own, deciding to crash in unannounced in the middle of a baby shower, on a hike, in the middle of a business interaction or in the frozen food aisle; choosing to come quietly like a whisper in the hollow hours of early morning. There is no field manual for this stuff. It is different for everyone.
And for those of us who have tasted the goodness of God in the land of the living as we’ve known Jesus’ love, it is the stuff of our hope. Death is the doorway we are meant to hate, but a doorway none the less. A doorway taking us into brilliance, unencumbered creativity, splendid laughter, shameless relationship, the choicest meats and finest wine. If we listen carefully to our hearts, we know it to be true. And we know it with pristine clarity when we grieve. We do not grieve as those who have no hope – but I am convinced that the presence of hope makes grieving more potent. I want to be with my brother and my dog; but even more I want to be where they are, in that place, seeing them in fullness. I can’t wait to be full myself, because Jesus knows I tire of being cranky and impatient. I want to know what it is like to be certain of my belovedness.
For everyone, grief is the invitation to savor the sanctity of every moment of this precious life.
Some dialogue from the novel Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel, captures this:
“To love is to lose. It’s just that simple. Maybe not today but someday. It is the inevitable condition of humanity. Some sadness has no remedy. Some sadness you can’t make better.”
“But then why isn’t everyone walking around miserable all the time?”
“Because ice cream still tastes good. And sunny and seventy-five is still a lovely day. And funny movies make you laugh, and work is sometimes fulfilling, and a beer with a friend is nice. And other people love you, too. [Death] has been around since time immemorial. You’ve run up against it. And there’s no getting around or over it. You stop and build your life right there at the base of that wall. But it’s okay. That’s where everyone else is too. Everyone else is either there or on their way. There is no other side, but there’s plenty of space there to build a life and plenty of company. Welcome to the wall.”
Death really is the ‘grand leveler.’ There is no getting around it. And as much as I hate death, I really do love the heightened sense of life that comes in and around it. There is nothing as piercing as the days and hours around death. If you’ve had the privilege of walking with someone you love up to that corridor, you know what it is to watch them struggling like an emerging butterfly in a chrysalis to make it through to the other side, to let go, to allow death to carry them into Life. We just don’t want to say goodbye to the ice cream, laughter and movies. We just can’t imagine strongly enough that what waits for us – who waits for us – will make our greatest pleasures here seem like a shadow, a vapor, a dream in the mist.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over twenty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has worked on behalf of exploited women internationally, but also loves the trails of Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Steve. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page, and her blog.