Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Some honest thoughts about the death of ones you love
Shari took this picture of my daughter at my father's grave today. It brings home the perpetual, recurring insult of death. Death is a rude and awful visitor. Yes, God has removed the ultimate sting of death because of Christ's resurrection, but this side of heavenly glory every good memory of a departed person is accompanied by the aching fact of their earthly absence. When people say that grief gets better over time, they are unwittingly referring to the way you start forgetting daily interactions and detailed memories that make you miss the person. That's the sad truth about the human separation that death brings. It only gets better because you forget so much. We try to comfort each other by saying the departed person is in "a better place". That is true, but I am not in a better place. After all, grief is about me, not the person who died. Be honest about that. We Christians are often enough guilty of telling each other, and ourselves, trite little spiritual cliches because we don't think it's right to feel so grieved and conflicted about our loved one's dying for so long. Hardcore grieving has a scripturally allotted timeframe, but the constant, dull, pain of missing a loved one carries no such limited timespan.
We forget things we should not, we remember things we should forget, and we often skew past events to fit the way we want to remember. The human mind and thinking process is flawed and feeble. It is a kind gift from God that He allows remembrance of some things so vividly, but it is also gracious how he dulls our memory about certain other happenings.
It distresses me regularly that eighteen months after his death, I cannot remember all I want about our life together. I drive by my father's grave every day as it is literally 150 yards from my office door. The daily sighting of his grave attempts to trigger the sad memory of his death (here I mean both his actual death, which I witnessed, and his state of being separated from me). Some times I fight off the trigger and re-holster the gun of mourning, so to speak. I choose not to let my mind probe the depressing feeling. Other times I panic a bit and try to voluntarily flood my memory with good thoughts and recollections of my Dad. Most often I think of him in our house, sitting in one of the recliners with one or more of our kids on his lap. Regularly enough the mental image I choose to conjure is stopping over at his house and catching him taking a rest on the back deck before puttering in the garden some more. He'd give me a few thoughts about the country's woes and maybe a comment about something funny one of the kids said or did. When I am doing things with my sons that I used to do with Dad, like going to a sporting event, or even just driving back and forth to this place or that, I think back on such times with Dad. When sadness comes, I do my best to fill my mind with pleasant thoughts of Dad.
Here's what I've come to learn over these eighteen months since Dad's passing. I'm forgetting things and I hate it. I have a reasonable memory. I read enough and study at a rate that should allow me quicker recall on things, right? Still, my aforementioned exercise, that helps me fight off melancholy feelings, keeps going back to the same repeated memories. The cost of going to the same recollections over and over is the loss of so many other events. Just a year and a half later and I'm losing some of the details about the many times I had with Dad.
Here's what I've come to discover in dealing with my father's death. You don't get over it. I believe the pain will turn to joy some day, but right now, there's no joy in being separated. Our life is very different with him gone. Obviously, life for my mother, his life partner, is radically different and adjusting to the new "normal" is painstakingly slow. With my father being fifteen years older than my mother, we vaguely contemplated life after Dad was gone, but now that time has been here a while and bluntly, it still sucks. There have been many, many great blessings and joys to celebrate in these past eighteen months, but there again, it is impossible to stop my heart from wishing Dad was here to be part of these things.
With each day that passes, it's harder to remember. For my young boys, how much will they remember? How about the little girl above, my father's only granddaughter? Can we remember enough so that she can know Pepa? Yes, I do know she'll meet him some day. That relieves some pain.
Shouldn't my faith in Christ be transforming my grieving experience? Shouldn't I be more positive and strive to center my thoughts on the profound biblical realities about sure eternal life in Christ and my definite reunion with my father in heaven? Well, on the first question- I am quite sure my faith in Christ allows me to be totally honest about my dismal feelings regarding Dad's death. Death is an aberration to God's created order. It's not supposed to feel natural or right. Sorry, but no personal life event from now until I die will be better without Dad being here. On the second question, it is the profound biblical reality of an eternal glory that outweighs these temporary trials that safeguards me from utter hopelessness and despair. Dad will not be my only loved one to pass before I die. How will I endure such times? What would I do if I was not sure about the ultimate consummation of things in Christ? How utterly awful it must be not knowing the living Christ.
These are my true thoughts, as I look at my daughter sitting in a cemetery- that she doesn't know is a cemetery- on a finely carved memorial stone-that she can't read- sitting six feet above the earthly shell of the man she didn't get to know nearly well enough and who I am fighting not to forget.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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. -2 Corinthians 4:16-18