Normally I would start a new series of blogs that coincided with the New Year with a positive encouraging message, and I believe I do, here… now. It just happens that my New Year’s message is about grief. Normally I wouldn’t write about grief at all, because I am so unfamiliar with it in terms of death and the loss of a loved one. But now that I have walked through a first round of holidays in a new way, in a grief of sorts, I wanted to share it. I feel certain that it is a pertinent topic for everyone who has walked it before, and if for no one else, then for me and for my family. But I share it with you anyway, because what I have discovered is that my grief has been poignant and beautiful – not nearly as scary as I thought. And that is a positive and encouraging message. So here it goes – a short series of reflections on my grief, and maybe yours too. It won’t be long or sophisticated. I am a novice. Just a few thoughts in a row.
My dear, sweet, precious dad died on October 31st. It was so quiet and peaceful, just as he would have wanted it. He died in his own bed, under the tender care of his wife of 62 years. He wasn’t really sick, other than a slowly weakening heart. He was not under the care of hospice or a nurse. He just peacefully gave up his spirit, just as the early morning star was rising. He had been awake before dawn, and my mom asked if he’d like to get up. He said, “No, I think I’ll go back to sleep”. And that was that.
I couldn’t help imagining what he must have woken up to on the “other side”. Instead of the morning routine of coffee, reading the newspaper and a round of daily medications, answering emails and paying bills, what must he have experienced? Was it like going from black and white to technicolor? I think the word I am looking for is glory. What must it be to wake up to God’s full glory? I smile so widely imagining the look on his face.
I imagine all the things that would be heaven for him – the beauty and glory of God in full array, no longer a dim reflection, answer upon answer to all his thoughtful, pondering questions about the world and the universe, delight in the beauty and perfection of it all, reunited with his family who has gone before him, and of course the unbounded love and uninterrupted presence of the Lord God our Father and His Son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – what can that be like? Someone wrote a lovely note of condolence to me, and said something to the effect, our loss is only tempered by the knowledge of his gain. So his gain blesses me, and causes me to remain in a state of thankfulness and gratitude.
I am also thankful that I had such an outstanding man as my father. I am grateful that he taught me what patient, persistent love looked like, and the wisdom of self sacrifice and humility. All of these things helped me understand and receive the love of a Heavenly Father who would also show us the way of self sacrifice and humility through his Son Jesus. My dad had just enough understanding to model it for me. And I received it. I am grateful for his life, and the love he had for me.
A week after his death, after organizing all the details, orchestrating the funeral, greeting so many friends and family, I drove home by myself. Yes, there were tears. But as honestly as I can say, they were tears of joy and gratitude. Not for loss but for gain. For the goodness of God, and his mercy, and his promises that death is not the end but a new beginning and the emergence into the fullness of life that God always designed for us. So I sang. I sang songs of praises most of the way home, with tears in my eyes, knowing that all was well.
2 Corinthians 4:13-15 says,
“It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
That is how I see it. I believe Jesus was raised to glory. I believe his promise that we will be too. I believe my dad is with Jesus. What ever that may look like. I believe I will be there too one day. So it causes my thanksgiving to overflow. What kind of God fills our heart with thanksgiving instead of despair at the time of death? One worth praising with our whole hearts!
And that is that. I believe, therefore I have spoken.
So I will close with an excerpt from a prayer from John Baillie’s “A Diary of Private Prayer”, Twenty-Fourth Day, Evening Prayer:
“Now unto Thee, O heavenly Father, be all praise and glory that day by day Thou dost richly fill my life with various blessings:
A home to share, kindred to love, and friends to cherish:
A place to fill and a work to do:
A green world to live in, blue skies above me, and pure air to breathe:
Healthy exercise and simple pleasures:
My race’s long history to remember and its great men to follow (namely Wm. B. Head, III)
Good books to read and many arts to delight in:
So much that is worth knowing and the skill and science to know it:
Those high thoughts that sometime fill my mind and come I know not whence:
Many happy days, and the inward calm that Thou givest me in days of gloom:
The peace, passing understanding, that comes from Thine indwelling in my soul:
The faith that looks through death and the hope of a larger life beyond the grave.
I thank Thee, O Lord God, that though with liberal hand Thou hast at all times showered Thy blessings upon our human kind, yet in Jesus Christ Thou hast done greater things for us than Thou ever didst before:
Turning sorrow into gladness and pain into the soul’s victory:
Robbing death of its sting:
Robbing sin of its power:
Making peace more peaceful and joy more joyful and faith and hope more secure.
Happy New Year!