Sunday, August 18, 2013

Losing Loved Ones, Facing Reality

                                                  Lenya Avery
Since my limo ride to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami two years ago, I think about death every day now, not morbidly, but realistically.
I recall that one of my earliest memories was at four-years-old when I saw my grandfather in his coffin.
Somehow, I did not attend another funeral for over two decades until my mom passed away. 
Since then, as a pastor I have conducted dozens of funerals. It is an interesting commentary that  I 'met' most of these people at their service, an odd place to become acquainted with a person.

When It Hits Close To Home
A funeral for a friend or loved one is an entirely different matter. 
It was a freezing day in the Flathead Valley of Montana when I stood at little Lenya's graveside just after Christmas last year. 
It just seemed so wrong for us to turn and leave her in that frozen ground. Wrong and irresponsible. 
For virtually every moment of her life up to that point, her actions and location were constantly monitored. 
She had  never been out of adult supervision, always watched for potential harm, protected  from any possible injury, external or self-inflicted.
I know it was irrational, but I thought, Lenya was not allowed to play outside in the winter without a coat, and now we were leaving her to the elements?
But then, isn't death irrational? It is mysterious, capricious and uncontrollable. It can be temporarily postponed, but not evaded. 
After death, a corpse becomes a problem. What to do with a body when life has fled?  The Bible calls this bodily state dishonor,  when life flees, the body is a mere shell. Seeing my mom in this condition was stunning. Though her familiar form remained, clearly the essence was gone. A powerful moment that left me speechless.

Body Trouble
At  death, the vehicle that made us mobile suddenly becomes a literal dead weight, and we treat it oddly.  What to do with the body at this point? Bury it, burn it or send it on a 'Weekend at Bernie's' adventure?  It doesn't really matter. 
Some funerals include 'visitations,' that can be a strange ritual.  And then we have the funeral procession, and the one time when you are in no particular hurry, the police let you go through all the red lights. I'd like to have that card to play when I am alive and late for an appointment. 

Death is dose of cold water, a wake-up call and a warning. Even ardent believers can slip into a self-made construct that pretends death is an unwelcome intruder when in fact, it is one of  few certainties in life. 
Having been on the brink myself in 2011, I am more vitally aware that our clocks are ticking down. 
Watching others suffer through grief makes the death of a loved one doubly difficult, but the fact is, everyone has an appointment; Such is the human condition. This does not make ICU or hospice any easier, they are inevitable and that sucks. Thus the gospel.

Losing a Loved One?
I know the classic funeral line is, 'You haven't lost someone if you know where they are.' I get the concept, but it is semantics to me. Gone for the rest of my life can seem like a very long time. It does make heaven closer, but it hurts.

Unforeseen Season                                     
The takeaway for me is pretty obvious: invest bandwidth more intensely in the Kingdom while being more intentional about valuing people over projects, especially those in my tribe. 
Grandchildren have been raining down on us  from heaven like rabbits. What a fabulous season. 
Raising kids was so consuming I did not see this time approaching, but I am fully engaged and stoked. Here's a montage of snapshots, a tribal update.

                           Two pastors and a film-maker. Body Language

                                                       Larissa with Aisley & Emmy 

                                                           And Jaxon & Bridget

                                                 Ezra updates his Facebook Status

Bekah- what a sweet daughter-in-law

                                          Lyon makes his appearance, Jesse is a dad. Wild.

                                                            The Northern Tribe of Levi

Daisy as the prima donna

                                     Leanne with a new look, and a new baby on the way in Oct.
Daniel and Leanne in midtown NYC

Josh and Tamara. He makes the coffee (worked for the Mermaid).
                                         Jason and clan. Epic Easter at Red Rocks.

And then there is Thelma and Louise