October 17th is a day that will always have significance for me. Seventeen years ago my dad Peter died after a short and wicked fight with cancer. I miss him and often wish I could pick up the phone, even if only for 2 minutes, to say hello.
No one is immune from grief. It is part of what it means to be human yet I still haven’t met anyone who likes it. Even Jesus wept when learning of the death of his friend Lazarus. To live is to grieve as to live is to experience loss, whether through death or simply as a result of the chances and changes that come our way.
What has become crystal clear to me is that we each grieve differently and different kinds of losses propel us into a variety of forms of grief. Grieving in response to tragedy is different than the grief that happens with retirement, when the last child leaves home, or when a friend moves away.
In my life journey, I’ve learned a lot about grief through my own and the experiences of countless others. When we lose someone we adore and cherish, grief is intense, overwhelming, discombobulating, and can leave us feeling strangely separate from people around us.
The vacuous heartache of loss can cause us to ask the unanswerable or question basic assumptions about faith, others, and ourselves. Grief can come in waves and there are passages in which the words of others are anything but helpful. Sometimes quiet and a small space to wail alone is what we need.
In the rawest of moments, we can feel as if we can’t breathe and believe we will not ever find the will to continue onward. But somehow, with God’s grace and the love of others, most of us do.
While grief never completely goes away, it changes flavors over the passage of time. How I grieve now about those I’ve lost years ago is vastly different than what I experienced in the acute moment.
Although there is far more to be said about grief, I think it is vital that we live with the resurrection of Jesus in view. It is Easter that tells us there is more going on than meets the eye. It is Easter that lets us know death is not the absence of existence, but rather the passageway into something unfathomably beautiful. It is because of Easter we can embrace the truth that we are surrounded, whether sensed or not, by those who have died before. And it is Easter that sheds light on where we are headed.
One powerful verse in scripture is from 1 Thessalonians 4:13. It reads,
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”
In other words, our faith does not eliminate grief, but rather affects how it is experienced. Just as a frame affects how a painting looks, our faith frames our grief. As I have said before, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Wherever you are in your journey in life with grief, know that God is with you, that God’s presence does not depend on what you are feeling or thinking, that you are surrounded by all of those you love and see no longer, and that the Chapel is a way station of love, support, and the presence of Jesus as you move along your path.