Too, too many times I have yearned for this to be so.
More times than I can even remember now I have stood and sat and wept with parents who are grieving the death of children.
In some cases we became acquainted after the funeral home had been called. In others, I had walked with parents and grandparents as they witnessed their loved ones’ slow suffering and dying. More than once, it has hit awfully close to home: with cousins, especially, who died after long struggles with debilitating disease.
In every instance except perhaps in those cases when the disease has taken its seemingly irreversible toll and the suffering was profound, I have yearned for a different outcome. And even in those times? Their parents’ grief is not much lessened, if at all…
And so it is that more than once over these last several months I have stood alongside those who grieved like the widow in today’s Gospel story in Luke. And yet, I have to say that even when I am without words, not at these times and in no other circumstance could I imagine approaching one whose loss is so profound and speaking the words, “Do not weep.” Jesus’ words at first seem nonsensical in the extreme — or at least highly insensitive. Indeed, how does one whose heart is broken and whose entire future is now entirely untenable ‘not weep?’ Weeping is, perhaps, the only reasonable response.
But then, of course, I am not Jesus. I do not have the power to give the widow back her son. No, not as Jesus did.
And yet? I witnessed something like this just a few days ago. No, not as Jesus did, but still I saw one man’s heartfelt effort to give parents back their daughter. If not in life, then at least in memory.
For we gathered last Saturday morning for the funeral of one who had died too young. Her life had been marked in these last years by a spiral of recurring depression and resulting self destruction which finally led to her taking her own life.
When I spoke that morning I shared this from the heart:
Mental illness is as real as cancer. It is as virulent and debilitating as heart disease. In this case, it was downright life threatening and it finally had its way.
I also assured those who loved her best that they could not have saved her for if they could have, they would have and they surely tried.
And oh, yes, these were surely true.
And yet? Those words are not enough are they? For in all relationships we have regrets, often, it seems, especially when things end this way. With suicide, there are always ‘what ifs…’
And so it was that some of the most powerful words of grace spoken that morning were from a childhood friend who had continued to walk alongside the one who had died. In fact, Brian believed he was probably the last one to speak to her alive.
One of several who spoke in that hour, Brian shared life giving words about the need to forgive himself and he urged those who loved her to do the same. And this. Oh, this as well:
Brian spoke directly about his friend’s dark downward spiral in these last couple of years. And then he turned to her parents and shared what she had said to him, which he doubted she had ever said to them herself.
- That she was grateful for how they hung in there with her in these last terribly difficult years.
- And just how much she loved them.
And oh, isn’t it so that Brian was doing all he could to ‘give their daughter back to her mother, her father’? No, not in life restored, but in memory tended and shared. Indeed, in a very real way, Brian’s words may well begin to bring healing to that which has been long broken.
And so I wonder now how you and I are called to do the same — regardless of the circumstances of the death so grieved. For isn’t it so that too often once the funeral is past and the casserole dishes are returned and the grass starts to cover the burial plot that we hesitate to speak aloud the name and the memories of those whose dying have left gaping holes in the hearts of their loved ones? Isn’t it so that far too often we not only fail to ‘give them back’ but in a sense we take them away all over again because of our own discomfort, our deafening silence in the face of another’s grief?
Yes, of course, it is possible that one can get stuck in grief, but I have never thought that was my call to make.
- Indeed, I can’t help but wonder if we all just worked a little harder at ‘giving him/her back to husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, friend… by saying the names and telling the stories and perhaps offering something they never heard before and so need to hear, if finally grief’s hold on us might not be quite so strong…
- I can’t help but wonder if as we stand in Jesus’ place and ‘give back’ to loved ones those whom they have so loved and grieved — if we might not know more fully God’s intent for us all…
- And I cannot help but wonder if then we might just get a glimpse of a time when we will all be ‘given back to one another’ in every sense of the word…
What do you think?
- How do you hear today’s marvelous story in Luke? Is it simply an account of a one time occurrence made possible by the presence and power of Jesus; is it only a sign of what will one day be; or is it something we might continue to participate in as I have described? Or do you hear this story in an entirely different way?
- Can you think of times when a loved one who has died has been ‘given back’ — either in the way I have described or in another way? What was that like? How does your experience of this inform your hearing of this story?
- Certainly there is much that is remarkable in this story. One thing that jumps out is the taboos that Jesus breaks just by stepping up and touching the bier which bore the body of the widow’s son. What darkness has Jesus entered into, what taboos has Jesus broken to come close to you? How have God’s people done the same? Indeed, are God’s people called to do the same? And how, in our doing so, might we begin to participate in the sort of wonder Jesus works today?