Death As A Way to Life: Finding Meaning in Loss
Words are cheap.
That’s what I thought to myself as I sat staring at a blank Word Document one night this past March. My grandmother had just died the day before and my mother had asked me to prepare a few words for her funeral. However, I was at more than just a loss for words. I realized this request demanded that I offer something in the way of hope to a room full of grieving people; these people were in pain and now they were to hear from someone enduring that same pain, perhaps magnified. How were we not all going to plunge head-first into despair? Someone precious had been taken away from us; the grief was sickening, paralyzing, and numbing. Death had left a trail of destruction within my soul and swept a foul, ruinous hand over the fields of my heart. Death had offered me nothing so it felt impossible to offer these people anything more than that.
But I was wrong. Death has an uncanny ability to bring to surface certain truths that somehow get overlooked in life. Before the hour of my grandmother’s death I never fully understood what she had given me, what she had given the world. In life, she was a magnificent grandmother. My grandmother spoiled my brother and me even into our adult years. She always had our favorite desserts made when we arrived at her house and she supported us in everything we did; she was genuinely proud of us even when in the grand scheme of things our accomplishments were insignificant. She was kind, generous, and loving. While these are all great traits and made for a comfortable childhood, I still didn't fully appreciate who my grandmother was and what she was a part of. In death she was inspiring and brought an uncompromising truth to light. As it can be found in life, meaning and purpose may be found in death.
I realized that my grandmother was part of a legacy that began far before time itself. Upon her death I found myself reflecting upon these three things: faith, hope, and love. I knew that my grandmother’s death had started a conversation within the darker corners of my heart and my soul; it was a conversation spoken between God and anyone grieving. Together, we were going to find meaning in both life and death.
It all starts with remembering. In between the blurry fits of pain my mind began to draw parallels to which I observed that death was a time of communion. We take the Lord’s Supper and remember Christ’s death on the cross. In that moment we are stunned into a humble silence by the thundering significance of that death. But Christ’s death meant something only because his life meant something. So I think about my grandmother’s life and about her death. It is here that I realized her death is a reminder to love. It is a reminder to never stop finding ways of showing people how much they mean to me, of how much I love them. And so even in the face of death I find hope; the same hope that Christ bestowed upon us as he hung on the cross. The kind of love that changes and moves the world abounds in the tiniest of places, even in a grandmother’s kitchen, on a quiet country road, in Middle America. That is the legacy my grandmother was a part of. It is one that was established by a prince who holds dominion over a vast, celestial kingdom. It is an everlasting, timeless legacy that continues to spring forth life even as death tramples forth on its pernicious march against the flesh.
C.S. Lewis once said that losing a loved one is like an amputation; a part of you will always be missing. But that suggests that you would stop operating as you did before and this just isn't true, not if we are to go on living. I agree with Lewis though when I say that something is missing; there is an empty space and a vast distance between our hearts and everything we do that we cannot ignore. We find that it is hard to forget but death makes a point in not being in the business of forgetting but of remembering. And so we find meaning in death by remembering the life that was given so graciously and generously. As the popular author John Greene puts it, the remembering is going to hurt but only because it matters. So let us always remember and never forget.
Step by step we wander into the future, and we continue. We go on but not in the way one goes on after leaving something behind. Nothing of hope and love is forgotten or left in the fathoms of the past but is brought into the light of today and tomorrow because we remember. We carry with us the lives of those who have gone before us and so are burdened with a new weight but we dance anyway. We can’t help but dance into the light of hope which love has freely given us. The misery of death cannot begin to cover or hide the light that faith, hope, and love usher in. Our mortality does not steal away our joy nor does the finality of death steal away our imagination, our lust for life. Rather, it reminds us that life is full of possibilities, that it is limitless.
Death’s Final Words
My grandmother’s death is not final. The love, faith, and hope in which she carried herself live on. She remains not only in my memories and of those who knew her but in every word, thought, or action motivated by these three virtues. Just the same, Christ lives not only in our memory of him; he lives in such things as love, faith, and hope. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul speaks on this. He mentions that all will pass away but that faith, hope, and love will remain. I can say this is true of my grandmother. As her image begins to slowly fade away from within the frame of my memory I can be confident that her presence is not completely lost to this Earth. Christ’s presence is also not completely lost to this Earth and that is the hope in which I shelter myself. So each new day I strive to love that which does not necessitate love, hope in the most hopeless of circumstances, and above all, have faith that these two things will not disappear from the Earth. It is in these spaces of my heart that Christ makes his home and gradually begins to tenderly cover those wounds death carelessly left in its wake. The darkness I sometimes feel cannot diminish the sense I have that Christ is still near; that my grandmother is still near to me.
Death is not necessarily the bearer of despair. Perhaps death has yet to teach life something new and give birth to a respect and favor for the timeless legacy of faith, hope, and love. Death is a fate we must all face but we may accept our mortality with courage for it is our faith, hope, and love that will remain even after we have gone.