No “Cookie-Cutter” Grief

I lost a good friend to cancer this past week.  Her funeral was yesterday and it’s still hard to get my head around her absence.  She died about a month after receiving the diagnosis.  Her friends and family all knew that it was terminal and she didn’t have a LOT of time.  But I think we were all shocked at how quickly it went.

I’m not only grateful for her friendship for the past 22 years, but for the sweet conversations we had over this past month.  She had lost her beloved husband unexpectedly 15 years ago.  I still remember it almost like it was yesterday.  And yet, for her, I’m sure some of those 15 years painfully dragged on.

But back to those sweet conversations.  We spent much of that time talking about what lie ahead for her.  Her greatest anticipation was to be with Jesus, in the throne room of God.  Because Heaven and Jesus are synonymous.  You can’t have one without the other.  That is my ultimate hope as well as I walk through this life.  I SO look forward to that.

Maybe because we were both widows.  Maybe because my loss is much more recent.  But we also talked A LOT about the reunion with her husband.  Oh sure, we can often think about how wonderful it will be to reunite with our believing loved ones who have gone on before us.  But I think it can often be on a very ethereal level.  Of course, we expect it to be spectacular, but we don’t always focus on the reality of it.

Even though I don’t THINK my life on this earth will end in a few weeks, I HAVE started to contemplate my reunion with Dale in real time, so to speak.  I imagine what it would be like to actually wake up in Heaven and run into his open arms.  And with the AGAPE love that we would both have?  It’s mind-blowing to imagine how incredible that will be.  That thought sustains me through many lonely days and nights.

So, with my friend’s death likely only a few weeks away, I asked her if she could even get her head around what it would be like to be reunited with her husband after all these years.  To actually see and touch and hear him again after the loneliness of widowhood.  She told me it was surreal to her.  Hard to even grasp the reality that was ahead for her.

Honestly?  I told her I was a little jealous that she would get to see Dale before I would.  I asked her to tell him how much I loved and missed him, and that I couldn’t wait for the day we would be reunited as well.

So focused was I on the immeasurable joy that was awaiting my friend, that I found my emotions around her impending death were primarily…JOYFUL!  Of course, I would miss her and I shed tears over MY loss.  But to a very great degree, that was overshadowed by my incredible happiness for her!

You might suggest that she had the best of both worlds. She knew her time was short and she made the absolute most of that.  She had such precious moments with all her family members and many of her friends.  She was able to plan every detail of her “Celebration of Life Service” including asking me to play a piano prelude for it.  I was honored to do so.  When I asked if she had any specific requests, she said (with a twinkle in her eye), “Something with ‘saints’ in it!”  I LOVED her sense of humor.

So while she had the opportunity to do all the things we all want to do before we die, she also was blessed to go quickly, without the long, lingering death that so often accompanies cancer.  She was ready to go, she knew where she was headed, she and her husband had left a wonderful family legacy, she had lived a good life of service to her Lord, and He blessed her by taking her home quickly.

In the days shortly after she passed, I found myself making some comparisons between her death and Dale’s – and more accurately, my response to them.

All the wonderful things that I rejoiced over with my friend were very similar to what Dale has been experiencing for the past year or so.  He, too, has now seen Jesus’ face.  He, too, is in the throne room of God.  He, too, has been reunited with his believing family members and friends.  They are both experiencing the many promises God has given us in the Bible regarding eternal life.  No more sorrow, no more tears, no more sadness.

So, a part of me was wondering why I didn’t have the same level of joy after Dale’s death.  I questioned if my grieving over Dale’s death should look more like how I grieved my friend’s death.  Was I too focused on the pain of his absence from my life, and not enough on all the joy he now had?

I did chew on that for a while and want to share where I landed afterwards.

Of course, there are some obvious differences.  For 30 years I lived nearly every day with Dale.  I saw my friend regularly, but we weren’t part of each other’s daily lives.  And my love for my friend was that of a sisterhood, while my love for Dale was the earthly version of Agape.

But the biggest, most impactful difference in my response to their deaths is the fact that I had a covenant relationship with Dale.  The Bible tells us that when two become one in marriage, it’s a relationship that is intended to last “until death do us part.”  Sadly, I know that isn’t true for many, and for those who have experienced that brokenness, I’m sorry for your pain, too.

The loss of a spouse through death is like having half of your body ripped away BECAUSE of that covenant relationship.  It’s a reflection of the relationship that Christ has with His Church, the body of believers.  Other than the relationship among the three members of the Trinity, I’m not sure there’s a more powerful example than that of husband and wife.

So, it only makes sense that my grieving over Dale’s death is on a different level than the grief over my friend’s.

And that is ALSO a lesson for us.  Everyone. Grieves. Differently.  A zillion factors can go into that, so be cautious about making assumptions about their grief.  Just be that welcome, listening ear when they need to process their unique pain.  It’s such a precious gift you can give during a vulnerable time.  God will bless you in return.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Sin Taints…Everything

During this past year, I’ve come across so many pictures from my life with Dale.  Some came with sympathy cards, some came from family, many were here in the house and just rediscovered as I go through Dale’s “space.”  Some are just of him, but so many are of the two of us as early as our pre-marriage days.

I can’t help but notice how very young and “in our prime” we look!  In many cases they are a stark contrast to the reality of those last few years together as he failed physically and mentally.  And honestly, I’m no spring chicken either!

I often joked with friends that, when I see Dale in heaven one day, I want him to look like he did on our wedding day, not on the day he died.  And I want to look like I did back then, too.

All of this reminded me of a very real, but sorrowful truth.  From the day we are born, we are dying.  Aren’t I just a ray of sunshine?!  But all we need to do is look around us to acknowledge this reality.  Of course, our bodies are falling apart to one degree or another.  The seasons remind us that much of nature goes through this death cycle.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the Universe tends toward disorder.

And most powerfully, the death of loved ones reminds us of the mortal nature of this world.

Sometimes I think we take this inevitability so for granted that we forget its source.  It happened back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned, and the course of mankind was set forever – until we die or Jesus comes back.

Trust me, this will NOT be a dissertation on sin and its effects, but suffice it to say that everything in the heavens and earth was tainted and headed for decay and death from that point on.  We often spend much of our later lives fighting this reality and the cosmetic and Botox industries thank us very much!

But don’t we all long for the days of our prime?  Doesn’t it seem to be an innate desire in our souls?  Ecclesiastes tells us that God has placed eternity in our hearts, and I believe it only makes sense that we want to be young and vibrant in eternity!

That is speculation on my part, so don’t go looking for scripture to support that word for word.  But we do know that God will make all things new one day.  We just can’t know exactly what that looks like in this life.

Not only do I look forward to the day when we can be rid of these deteriorating physical bodies, but I also long to be rid of the sin that lurks around all of my thoughts, desires, words and actions.  Talk about breaking free from our bonds!  What a glorious day for us to anticipate if we are believers.

I think that may be one of the reasons why I don’t spend much energy on memories from my life with Dale that showcase those sins.  I don’t want to dwell on the times our pride or stubbornness or insecurities or frailties created difficult memories.

I want to camp out on the very best moments of our very best days.  In short, I want to remember those times that, in retrospect, seem near-perfect to me.  Naïve?  Perhaps.

As I worked through this thought process over the past few months, I came to the conclusion that what I’m longing for physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually is…HEAVEN!

Full disclosure – I am studying Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven,” (for the third time 😊) and that is definitely influencing my thought processes lately.  But the promises in God’s Word are true and, as believers, we CAN look forward to a future eternity that is free from physical decay, or any other encumbrance that sin has saddled us with in this life.

Restoration of everything that’s tainted in our earthly lives is an incredible hope we can cling to.  I honestly don’t know if it’s wrong to create these rose-colored memories of my time with Dale.  But it feels like a comforting way to bridge that gap until I step into eternity.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Revelation 21:5)