Monday, March 11, 2013

The Junction of Joy and Sorrow Made Manifest

It's never easy to say goodbye. There are few, if any, times in life in which we are truly prepared to see someone we love and care for for the last time. Yet, there are certainly situations in which it is much easier to bid a final farewell than in others. Simply having the opportunity to say goodbye is often not the case when life takes an unexpected and sudden turn.

Death is never easy, never dignified, never without some measure of pain. It is always messy, always accompanied by a sense of loss, and always significant. I do not know how those who do not know the love and tender mercy of God confront the reality of death. I have often wondered what it would be like to face death without the knowledge of the higher plane of our spiritual existence and God's plan for his creation. It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to imagine viewing death only as an ending, and not also as a beginning. This is one of the realities of our lives in which I most keenly see a difference between those who have accepted, recognized, and embraced God's redeeming love, and those who have not.  

As humans, we are wired by God to never wish to see someone we love and care for leave us. This is true whether we recognize the reality of God's presence and will in the world or not. There is something innately wired in each of us to want to hold on to those whom we love. This desire is present even though we know that our loved one is going to a better place and that their story has not truly ended. It still hurts, even when the person who we have lost has lived a full life. It still hurts, even when their body has been shutting down on them for years. It still hurts even knowing that in death they are released from the terrible pain which has plagued them for so long. The simple truth is that death hurts.

Jo and Dave Gipe
On February 3, 2013, one day shy of her 86th birthday, my Grandmother, Sarah JoAnne (Adams) Gipe, went to be with Jesus. Her passing could hardly have been scripted any more poignantly. In her final days each of her four children was able to spend time by her side and, not only say goodbye, but celebrate her life with her one last time. Those final days were days filled with pain and sorrow, but they were also days filled with smiles and laughter. Her last days were days of celebration, characterized by singing and remembrance. When her final moment came, she breathed her last breaths in the arms of her children, singing about resting in the arms of Jesus. She left this earth as she had lived in it, a woman dedicated above all to two great pursuits: her love and commitment to her family, and her devotion to Jesus.

If ever death was a reflection of release from pain into the arms of our savior, it was in the passing of Jo Gipe. It was a powerful picture of the redeeming love of Christ made manifest in our lives. Yet it still hurt to see her go. I wasn't there when it happened. In fact, I was on the other side of the country watching the super bowl with friends. But when I found out, only minutes after her spirit left this earth, the pain hit me as strongly as if I had witnessed it myself.

Nothing that I have experienced in life so strongly illustrates the dual realities of our life so strongly as death. I don't know what it is like to die, but I imagine it is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand there is great delight and excitement to leave the cares of this world and be free in Heaven. On the other, in order to do so, those whom we love most must be left behind. I do know what it is like to be one of those left behind. As my brother in law observed the evening before the memorial service: it truly is strange to simultaneously feel great joy that one whom we loved is free of pain while also experiencing such deep pain ourselves as those who she left behind. 

Despite the short notice and complications of last minute cross country travel, Alison and I were blessed by being able to make it to Arizona for the internment and memorial service. It was a weekend of tears, but it was also a weekend of joy and celebration, not only of my grandmother's life, but of life in general.

Kristen and Corey had just purchased their new house so we had the unexpected opportunity to see their new home and stay with them for the weekend. The morning of the funeral we awoke to fresh snow, which added a unique element to the day.

We also had the chance to spend time with family that we do not often get to see since we live in Virginia.   

Despite the fact that all the cousins are now between 20-30 we still had our own kids table, where we were joined by my cousin's three actual children. Throughout the weekend they served as a representation of the next generation for all of us and frequently ended up in pictures.  

The contrast between life and death, old and young, loss and hope was particularly evident in the presence of baby Jack, who had come into this world only six weeks earlier.

It is never easy to say goodbye, but if it has to be done, this was the way to do it.

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