He didn’t look like himself.
I guess no one really does hooked up to medical machines keeping the body and brain alive. Here was my Papa in the final hours of his life though. He went into surgery for some heart issues and never came back to us.
I got the chance to tell him goodbye. Alone with the dying in that room, I remember telling him that everyone he had taken care of, everyone in his family, everyone he loved was ok and that he didn’t need to hang on for us.
Looking back, I don’t know why I said that. He was going off life support. There wasn’t a hanging on to be done. I suppose it was for myself, to tell myself that we were going to be ok without our patriarch. I may have said it because you’re supposed to have words for the dying if they can’t speak. Maybe it was because I believed he was fighting – like he always did – and that he could hear me. Perhaps I wanted him to be a peace more than I wanted him to come back to us.
Whatever the reasons I said words to my dying Papa, I said them, and a little while later he was dead.
On Saturday, May 4th, Rachel Held Evens died. From what I hear, she was surrounded by loved ones who prayed over her, touched her, and anointed her with oil. It’s a beautiful scene to imagine, but I suppose the reality of the moment was far more painful than imaginations can capture.
Rachel was an acquaintance of mine. She interacted with me a few times on Twitter, and I watched her words and interactions with others. More than just someone I knew, she was someone I admired. She was smart and kind, a combination that isn’t too common.
Her death has left me feeling heavy like a steel ball is sitting in my chest. It’s a feeling that can only be called grief. Yes, I am grieving over the death of a semi-stranger. Grief is weird like that. When people mean something to you, it doesn’t matter how close you were, grief still comes.
My corner of the internet is filled with this grief. Rachel touched many, many lives, in very personal ways. There is collective grief among many of us who have left the evangelical circus. In many ways, Rachel broke the path that led us out of toxic fundamentalism.
She also helped people retain faith, even as they left their churches, looking for something more, something healthier, something more Christ-like. She believed in the church, in scripture, and in Jesus. It was evident in her writing and her speech.
So, we feel the loss. The heaviness I feel is shared among those of us who loved Rachel in some form or another. There is weeping, eulogies, shock, and comfort, all shared with digital family and friends.
As beautiful as it is, the reality is that this coming together is because of a death, the death of a woman of valor who died at a young age. She was younger than I am. Death stalks us all, no matter the age or circumstances.
Again, death won.
Death by death, my life has filled with loss and grief.
It began with my mom. Her death, when I was two, introduced the weight of death into my life. For as long as I can remember, I have known grief over the loss of someone I loved, even without knowing her.
I’ve grown accustomed to death, marking the passage of life with sorrow, yes, but knowing it’s just what happens to us all. As I am fond of saying, no one gets out of here alive.
Other deaths throughout my life have reminded me and reinforced this fact. My Grandmother died of cancer. My friend Mikey was lost to suicide. My favorite church elder had aggressive cancer. My other Grandma (my Papa’s wife) was lost to grief, age, and the result of a stroke. Michel Spencer was taken too soon by cancer. And now, we add Rachel’s name to the list of souls we pray for and ask to pray for us as they witness our life of struggling to hold faith, hope, and love.
In every one of these lives, death has come and taken them, replacing their physical presence with the wound of grief. It may come in the guise of cancer, illness, medical complications, but let’s call it what it is: death. It comes for each of us. And in every case, we are left with the same result.
Jesus died too.
We are walking in the 50 days of Easter, and here we tend to forget that before the resurrection that starts Easter, we are ushered into the season by death.
I wonder how many people the disciples that mourned Jesus’ death had lost to death? I know mother Mary lost her husband, Joseph. She’s known the heaviness, the grief of death at least one other time in her life. I have a feeling it was more than once though. And collectively, I imagine those first Jesus followers had felt the sting of death in their lives many times.
And now their hope of revolution has died on a cross.
Even as death wins, again and again, it doesn’t get the final word.
We are walking in Easter, and yes the season is ushered in by Good Friday and the death of love, but the Easter Season begins with the death of death by death and the resurrection of Christ ushering in a new reality, a reality where even though death wins, it never has the final word.
Resurrection isn’t the victory over death; resurrection is proof that death is dead.
After all, how can something that has passed away have any hold on us anymore? There is a good life that not only animates our bodies but now comes to us in the harrowed grave and lifts us up. We are no longer bound by death, its icy grip capturing and enslaving us. There is a hope, a way out, a victory. The resurrection declares that victory and our participation in the resurrection is both a salvation and a declaration that the old has passed and now it’s all new creation.
Life after life, the reality that eternity is out playground is something that beckons us to live here and now. To live, entirely, ultimately, with reckless abandon. I don’t know what that means, but I want to learn to Carpe Diem, seize every day and drink it down to the marrow.
Life is meant to be enjoyed, and life after life is designed to be our fulfillment. We are made for life, not for death.
So, death wins for now. Its sting touches us all, and grief is its remnant, it’s wake, it’s the effect on our hearts and bodies. Feel that effect. Feel the grief, the loss, the hurt. There is nothing wrong with that. These feeling in our chests are real, solid, and demand to be experienced. If we don’t, they will pop up in other places of our lives, disrupting and reminding us that hurt still lives here because of death.
But life has won. There is no longer a permanence to death. We all come out alive. All of us. There is no exception. Love ushers us in by harrowing hell, destroying the grave, and beckoning us all to come forth.
I don’t understand it, but I believe it. I need this faith in my life because, without it, everything loses color, meaning, and hope. I need to believe that life, love, light wins, indeed has won and that I get to take part in that victory. I need a victory in my life.
So, I believe in the death of death. Even as death by death, I lose people I admire and love, it is the death of death by death that gives me hope.
We will all live, and it will be glorious.