The Morning After Death
The Bustle in a House
The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth –
The sweeping up the heart
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity –
I woke up this morning and realized that, no, it had not been a dream. Yesterday, two long-time friends from different chapters of my life, both lost a son. One death was from covid, the other the result of another illness. My mind keeps playing old movie reels of these young men. I remember leaving a dollar on one’s bedside table as a thank you for letting us sleep in his room on an overnight visit. The other I keep seeing as a toddler, one of the cutest there ever was, and how his niece and nephew look just like him.
For those of us who stand on the sidelines and grieve with our friends, so much about this feels out of sync. This was not the plan. It’s as if we've been on a road trip and missed our turnoff. Suddenly the map no longer makes sense, so we keep turning it around and around to try and find our bearings.
For my friends, this wound will never fully heal. Something has been unnaturally cut off, like an amputation of a limb. I hope and pray that their faith in God will help them live with the pain and the unnaturalness of feeling less than whole, but I also know full well that faith will never bring back the limb or make things whole again.
What can you say to a friend in a time like this? When I texted my one friend, I found myself writing, “There are no words.” When it comes to words, Nadia Bolz-Weber said it better than I ever could:
“We can say some really dumb stuff when we don’t know what else to say. That nonsense you hear in hospitals and funeral homes…like…'God has a plan for us, we just don’t know what it is.' But when I’ve experienced loss and I’m feeling so much pain that it feels like nothing else even exists, the last thing I need is, 'But Nadia, when God closes a door, he opens a window.' Because that makes we want to ask them where that window is so I can push them the f*** out of it.
And usually when you're grieving, and someone says something so optimistic to you, it’s about them. It’s about the fact that they simply cannot allow themselves to entertain the finality and pain of death. And so, instead, they turn it into a precious moments greeting card. In moments of grief and loss we are afraid and doubting and we want answers.
Kind of like the disciples three days after Jesus died. They were scared and they were doubting, which is understandable. And then, suddenly, Jesus was standing there, right in front of them. And in their fear and disbelief, he didn’t rebuke them, he didn’t try and convenience them of the truth, he said, 'See my wounds. I’m here. Don’t be afraid.''
After rising from the dead Jesus turns to his completely freaked out followers, who have no idea what this can all mean, and asks them the really crucial and deeply theological question, ‘So, do you guys have any snacks?’
I wonder if what this says to us is:
1. If in the moment of someone’s loss, you get all transcendent and spiritual, floating above this disappointment, like a precious moment’s angel, you may just miss Jesus altogether, because that’s him over there at the snack table.
2. In the midst of grief, all anyone can really do is be with us and make some casseroles.
‘See my wounds. I’m here. Don’t be afraid…Let’s eat.’
This is what we get to do for each other as well. This is what we get to do for the world God loves so madly.”
(You can watch Nadia give this homily on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wxU0CyA2Nk )