The question of death – and more specifically, our reaction to a death – is tormenting me this week. Someone I cared for died this week. He was a 40-something year old man who seemed nothing but healthy. He went to bed, had a heart attack, and died in his sleep. There was no sign that he suffered. His life over the past several years, however, demonstrated otherwise. He lost his wife to breast cancer, buried his own brother, and saw his home and community destroyed by a hurricane… all in the span of three or four years. That was a lot to endure. And while he did endure those events with an astounding amount of grace and positivity, he carried the weight of those events with him every day. He missed his wife and brother more than he could express. And he longed for the day when a sense of “normal” would return. But he died this week. And I am sad.
If I think about my friend’s death in the context of my faith, I soon realize that instead of mourning, I should be celebrating. I believe that my friend was called home to God; that he is reunited with his family; that he is at peace, probably even jubilant. The suffering he knew on earth is gone. My faith tells me that he is not sad, that he is no longer missing anything, that he is free of struggle. He is once again whole; perhaps more whole than he’s ever been. And yet I am, in fact, sad.
After pondering my emotions – analyzing them, if you will – what I realize is that my sadness is not for the friend I lost. Rather, the melancholy I feel is for myself and for the others who will miss him. We will no longer hear his voice, enjoy his laughter, or benefit from his insight. There is one less wonderful person in this world. And that IS sad. But – to some extent – isn’t it also a little selfish?
I am not suggesting that grief is inappropriate or wrong in any way. On the contrary, I think it is a healthy, necessary part of healing. But the ability to appropriately deal with grief, I think, lies in our understanding of its source. When we understand why we are sad, perhaps we can better bond with others who are feeling the same way. When that happens, I think we are better prepared to pay tribute to the person who’s passed. My fear is that those who are unable to process their grief in this way will get stuck in it and will begin to make the death more about themselves than about the actual person we lost.
This morning, I woke to pictures on Facebook that show a group of people who gathered last night to celebrate my friend. My guess is that they had some drinks (OK, probably lots of drinks!), told some stories, shed some tears, and laughed a lot. Instead of wallowing in sadness, they raised a glass and toasted the man they loved. They demonstrated gratitude for the time they spent with him. I know that’s how he would want it.
And so, through teary eyes I raise my glass, my friend. I promise to push past my own sense of loss to celebrate you. I remain thankful for the time we had together. And I give praise for the peace I know you’ve found.
Until we meet again…