The last several Living and Growing columns have included reflections about death, dying and grieving. Acknowledging that we are all dying, and preparing (ourselves and others) for our own deaths can be extremely helpful spiritually and practically. But dealing with sudden, violent and unexpected deaths comes with its own complications around grieving. We are often plagued with questions of the “what if and “why” variety. We may have anger mixed with shock mixed with despair. I recently had the honor of presiding at the memorial of someone who suddenly died way too young. This is most of the homily from that service.
When we lose someone we care about, it hurts. There’s just no way around it, it hurts. You can have the strongest faith in the world and it’s going to hurt. You may not have any faith or any practice and it’s going to hurt. It’s certainly my belief that part of what Christ being crucified and resurrected is about is God “getting it.” God watching God’s own son having a painful death. And then having that son be raised up to raise everybody up with him. So God knows what it is like to lose a child.
God is present sometimes with us when we hurt in ways that we don’t know. Because something helps us survive. Sometimes it’s the stories. Sometimes it’s people kicking in a little bit. Sometimes it’s people checking in at one month. At two months. In a year. Because it also doesn’t stop hurting. It’s a myth that you will get over it, or that you will have “closure.” You learn to live with it. And that’s not to make light of the pain. It’s to say part of what I pray for is a God that helps you carry that pain. And doesn’t try to tell you, “It’s OK, don’t feel bad.”
I believe God also tries to tell you, “Your child is with me. They are with me.” In the fulfillment of the kingdom, in the fullness of what God has created for us, that is better than any of us can describe and better than any of us can imagine. Where there’s no hunger. There’s no pain. There’s no anger. There’s no fighting. There’s no addiction. There’s no violence. Where there is God caring for us and giving us everything we need to care for each other. And no competing for resources. And no judging. That’s what we celebrate in terms of being grateful that God enfolds James in that love.
Knowing that doesn’t take away the loss in our lives. And it doesn’t mean it will take away your anger, which is also very real. And God is present in anger. God doesn’t ask us not to be angry. God just promises to stay with us when we’re angry. To hang in with us. So that when it’s time that this life ends for us, that we, too, will be enfolded in that love. And that something will have carried us through.
Be as gentle as you can with each other. I know people get irritated with each other when anyone dies, but certainly in a tragic, unexpected, violent death. I know that people have different opinions about the right way to remember the person, to honor them. Be gentle with each other. Because you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care for them. You wouldn’t be online if you didn’t care for them. And I know that there are people who love them, but who aren’t able to do this at all. Who just can’t. Can’t be in the room. Can’t be online. Can’t watch it. Can’t do it. Because that’s where they are. Be gentle with them as well. There is no right or wrong way. It’s asking God to be present in it. And remembering that for thousands of years we have been promised that presence. Available for everyone. For everyone! wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t believe that. And that’s what I come to talk about…what I believe God does for us.
• The Rev. Karen Perkins is the pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.