It’s Saturday and I’m grieving. From the looks of my Facebook feed, I’m not the only one. There’s enough dying going on in our lives right now that I’m tempted to think there’s something more going on here.
I lost a beautiful friend this week. She was not a blood relation, but her wisdom is what I would love to have received from my own grandmothers if I’d been able to have that kind of relationship with them. She gave me, and all of us who knew her, exactly what we needed to hear. A mutual friend put it this way – she was a channel of God’s love. When I grow up I want to be like her. She lived a full life and was spared the pain of a slow decline, by God’s grace. But even so, she is gone from us too soon.
Don’t you just cringe when some well-meaning person says, “It was God’s will,” when someone dies? Like that’s going to comfort anyone. Stuff like that makes me angry. It makes me angry at the person who says it, and it makes me angry at whatever heartless God would will death, whether it be after a full, rich life, or whether it come to a young father of two little girls, or whether it be a starving child in a third world country. It makes me angry because I know it is the lie of lies.
God’s will is not death, and it never was. God’s will is life. It is always life.
So it’s Saturday, and I’m thinking about life. I’m thinking about how my friend Marjorie is just as alive today as she was last Saturday, even though her physical body no longer houses her. I can feel her looking at me with love and tenderness, along with my two blood grandmothers.
It’s Saturday and I’m thinking about the creation story in Genesis; that when God created life, He called it “good.” He didn’t call it “perfect.” Maybe this whole grieving process is about grieving the idea of earthly perfection so I can accept the good of it. I think that’s what Marjorie would have encouraged me to do.
It’s Saturday and I’m thinking about my friends who are grieving their own losses this holiday season. I don’t want to be that awful person who says, “It must have been God’s will.” Instead, I want to be that person who reminds us all that no matter how dark things can be, the God I believe in has the power to make use of every dark experience to bring light into others’ lives. God doesn’t will pain, suffering, or death, but God doesn’t waste it, either.
It’s now Sunday morning and I’m comforted by the fact that pain, especially the pain of loss, deepens my capacity for compassion. For a very long time, I did my best to avoid feelings of sadness, anger, loss, and grief. But by stifling and avoiding those feelings I was also stifling and avoiding joy, forgiveness, appreciation, and acceptance. I was miserable to be around, even if the only person around me was me. Today when my heart stretches beyond capacity with the ache of loss, I realize that the emptiness I feel means I have that much more capacity to be filled.
Many years ago I heard something at a graveside service that has stuck with me because of how powerful the image was. The minister quoted Psalm 23, a common one at funerals. Then he talked about being on a two lane highway with an oncoming tractor trailer truck in the other lane. That truck doesn’t hit him, but it sure comes close. Close enough to block him from view from anyone on the other side of the road. He is hit not by the truck, but by the shadow of the truck.
Death is like that, he said. It is but a shadow. When loved ones are struck by the shadow of death, and death, like the truck, blocks our loved ones from sight, they are not gone. They are safely moving on to their destination.
I hope that image helps someone the way it helps me. And if it just makes you angry, like some other “god’s will” platitude, I sincerely apologize.