Death is the single most inevitable and inescapable fact about human existence and it surprises and shocks us every single time it happens.
This one fate we cannot deny horrifies and crushes us each time we encounter it despite the absolute truth that each and every one of us will meet it.
I think this partly points to something inside of us that refuses to see it as part of the natural order of things. We see death as an interloper on creation…an unnatural reality and we rail against it with all of our might…as well we should.
Death is a thief.
It cannot be ignored however that for some – death is a relief. It is an open door to walk through and leave this room for whatever is on the other side.
Still, whatever the circumstances, there is no easing of the pain of absence that those left behind feel when a loved one dies.
That pain manifests in many different ways as each person’s mourning is as unique as a fingerprint.
Part of mourning is the sudden and ongoing awareness of a new emptiness inside and outside of us that was once occupied.
What do we do with this emptiness? This is the question that mourning seeks to answer. What do I fill this space with?
Initially many people fill the wound with a flood of emotions – anger, grief, hate, and fear are often at the forefront (and for those who have lost the very aged or those who have suffered for a long time relief is also part of the list).
There is no wrong way to grieve and there is no wrong way to feel after the death of a loved one. We need to know this so that we do not add guilt to the long list of feelings that swirl around us.
For those people who hold onto faith there is the small solace that while our loved ones have died they are, as a wise mentor of mine once said, in the hands of a loving God.
We may not understand how a God that allows death in its many horrible forms could be called loving, but that small reality in the world of faith can, if allowed, grow from a painful splinter into a great and comforting hope.
Still in the raw days after a death our thoughts of God may be non-existent or even such that our prayers are really angry and hate-filled screams – and this too is ok. It is no sin to hate and rail against God in the shadow of death and part of who God is accepts and understands this human response.
There are others who may not have faith in God as an aspect of their grief. To them I can only say that there are worse things in this universe than obliteration and leave it there, however small comfort that may be.
Of all the things that can be said about death one of the most true for those enduring it is that no words, however well meant or wise or loving, bring healing or comfort.
No matter who you are and no matter how many deaths you have had to personally endure it is also true that you cannot remotely understand the pain of another who is going through the grief. Those who seek to come around and comfort the grieving must understand this.
In the face of death and the unspoken fear of non-existence, often the greatest comfort one can offer is that of simple, silent presence. To exist in the presence of the one who is grieving non-existence can be a powerful statement that while death continues, so too does life.
In closing I leave you with the words of the great pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, uttered just prior to his execution by the Nazis on April 9, 1945 to one of his fellow inmates –
“This is the end – for me the beginning of life.”