The death of my mother this month has been a different experience for me than the death of my daughter a year ago this month. The death of my mother just a few days before the first anniversary of my daughter’s death has given me ample opportunity to reflect again on the lessons of life and death.
As we prepared for my mother’s memorial service I caught myself thinking, “Anna would have wanted to be here,” or “I wonder how Anna would have been taking all of this.” Anna was very sensitive and the death of her grandmother would have devastated her. Yet I know that she would have taken those deep emotions and integrated them into the rest of her life and I am sure that the death of her grandmother, whom she loved dearly, would have made her in some sense a better person. I can only hope the same could be said of Timberley, Samuel, and me.
But as I reflected on those thoughts about Anna, and other similar thoughts about my mother [“She would have loved these flowers that so-and-so sent.” “She would have loved to have heard the music sung and played or the poems and letters read at her memorial.”] I realized the silliness of my thoughts. Would Anna really want to step away from the presence of her Lord, whom she loved more than her grandmother, more than life itself, in order to rejoin the land of the living and mourn the death of her grandmother? I hardly think so. Would my mother, whose ship has now sailed and who is now resting peacefully with her Lord and awaiting his second coming, would she want to re-animate her old and suffering body in order to hear the songs and poems of her grandchildren? As much as I love my son and my nephews and nieces, again I hardly think so.
And so we are left with this sadness. But why are we sad? Too often, I find that I am sad for Anna’s sake. Timberley recently observed that Anna had not experienced springtime in Kentucky since she was old enough to have long-term memories. When we returned to the US in 2006 for our first stateside assignment, she had no memories of the United States and could not even remember many of her relatives. Indonesia does not have a springtime like we have in the US. Our thoughts quickly and naturally went to the conclusion, “Anna should be here to see the tulips and crocuses. She is missing out on something beautiful.” At those unguarded moments, I will only speak for myself and not for my wife, my lack of faith is revealed. I forget that Anna’s situation is so far superior to anything that we might be experiencing here that there is no real comparison to be made. She is experiencing reality and truth. We are living in the shadows. She has left the cave to see the strong light outside, and we are beckoning her to come back inside. How frail is our faith at times.
The salve for that lack of faith is to know the truth. We need to know God’s word about the fate of the faithful saints who have died. Sometimes it is helpful to hear those truths put in different words. Last year Timberley, Samuel, and I had an opportunity to go to Chicago and see Anna’s and our favorite band, Switchfoot, in concert. It was a bittersweet experience, and the bitterness and the sweetness were very strong that night. We had a five-hour trip home from Chicago to Louisville. On the way we decided to listen to a recording of Max McLean reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. [It turns out that the Chicago-Louisville trip fits the book exactly. Try it out if you ever have a five-hour road trip ahead of you.] The end of the book tells the story of Christian as he crosses over the river to enter the city of God. Bunyan’s description, and McLean’s reading, so capture the happiness of Christian and his friend Hopeful as they pass this last obstacle on their journey to be with God, that we were almost bursting with the same joy and happiness. It was a good salve for our souls at a time that we were saddened at Anna’s passing and sorely missing her presence.
Yesterday, my father was lamenting the loss of his wife of 57 years. We sat in our living room and cried together. I remembered the medicine and went to find the recording of John Bunyan. I played just the last few chapters so my father could hear about Christian and Hopeful entering the Celestial City. At the end, my father said softly, “Do you think that really happens?” “I am sure that it is something very much like it,” I answered.