Revisiting Grief

Recently we experienced the loss of one of my son's neighborhood friends.  Derek died of cancer Friday morning at his home, surrounded by his family.  He was seven years old.  He was a sweet, fun-loving little boy that used to ride his Bigwheel up and down the sidewalk in front of our house.  He came over countless times during the summer, and my kids played with both Derek and his sister.  And now he is gone.  All of his human potential has ended in the blink of an eye.  Granted the weeks and months of on-and-off suffering that his family was forced to deal with probably didn't seem like the blink of an eye to them.  My point is that he was playing in our basement one day, and gone the next.  Nothing is permanent.  Not the cars we drive, not the houses we live in, not even you and I. 

There are answers in Christianity for the times when we struggle with suffering.  They may be true, but sometimes they can seem too academic.  This was one of those times.  I was unprepared for the level of grief that I felt when I heard about his death.  It is one thing to attend the funeral of someone in their eighties.  It is something entirely different to see a seven-year-old's blankie draped across a coffin.  I'm not sure what to make of this.  It happens every day in our world of course, because children are mortal too.  But it just feels wrong.  Suddenly I will feel pangs of guilt for the times when I grew frustrated with the kids when they were playing together too loud, or committing some other "crime" that all normal kids take part in.  Suddenly I long to have those times back, so that I could revel in the gift of having the opportunity to get mad about silly things again.  How funny the human condition is that we exist on a linear timeline that often consists of 'sweating the small stuff.'   

I must admit that I am greatly comforted by the story of Jesus equating our entrance into Heaven with having the faith of a child (Matt 18:3).  For children, faith comes so naturally and openly.  As adults we often allow pessimism and pride to get in the way.  Christ reminds us to strip off the garbage, and keep what once came so naturally to us as kids.  I am certain Derek is in Heaven.  Not just because he was baptised, or because he had a religious funeral, but rather because spiritually speaking - he was a straight arrow.  I wouldn't mind one more chance to pat him on the head or watch him playing with my own children again in the backyard.  But that was about to change anyway, even before he got sick again: my family and I are in the process of moving.  Derek would have soon been without my son as a playmate.  In addition, the family just across the street from him had moved three weeks prior.  Maybe that is how God works sometimes.  Derek was here to touch the lives of the other children for a while, and once they moved away, God brought him home.  No more suffering, no more trips to the doctor.  Only peace.

There are a handful of near-death experience studies that were conducted on children during the twentieth century.  It is amazing how so many of them reported the same thing.  They could feel themselves die, and then all of a sudden they were in the presence of Jesus.  Many of the kids even reported details like Christ was wearing a red sash around his upper body (you will note that this description also shows up in the recent story of Colton Burpo from the book Heaven is Real).  I like this mental picture.  I imagine Derek walking next to a tall, kind gentleman wearing a red sash. 

Am I being too poetic here?  Too Pollyanna?  I don't think so.  I think grief and pain itself are often indicators of the reality of Heaven and God.  To suffer so acutely seems to demand a greater Good from which a lack or disconnection from that Goodness can  become offensive. But why is it so offensive?  Why do we get so angry and so grief-stricken when something like this happens?  Because we know that human-kind is meant for something better.  This separation feels unnatural because it is unnatural.  Deep down our spirit knows Heaven already, and the stark contrast of this world compared to that one is repugnant to us.  We can have joy in the fact that if we know Jesus, Heaven awaits us.  Notice I said we can have joy, not always comfort.  During certain times in our life there may in fact be very little consolation from religion, but there can always be joy from God.  Some of you will know exactly what I mean here. 

I am not sure if there is a moral here, save to say that only God lasts forever.  If we place our faith in anything else (money,  work, individualism, etc) we will eventually be disappointed.  None of those things will follow us after we die.  None of it will follow us or wait for us on the other side, but God does wait.   He waits for us to accept Him in this life, to take part in the way we live here on planet Earth, and He waits to greet us when our time is up.  If this were not the case, then our species would truly be without hope.  

Derek has moved on.  It is up to the rest of us who knew him to continue living, and to attempt to process the things that have happened.  I suspect I will picture him riding his Bigwheel up and down the sidewalk in front of our home for some time to come, even once we are in our new house.  Forgive me if I make it a point to also picture him riding alongside someone wearing a red sash.



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