My sister in law just died about three weeks ago. It was stunning. She was not even 50. As I get older, 50 seems a midpoint rather than the harbinger of the end. So you don’t expect people to die at that age. At least, I don’t. I didn’t.
So, I should start this out, in deference to Debbie by telling a bit about her, as I knew her. I met Debbie when she was dating my brother and I liked her right off. She had a wicked sense of humor, silly and profane, piercing and insightful. She could give as good as she got and took crap from no one. She loved her family and she loved kids and she took people to her heart. She was a generous spirit. Down to earth and idealistic. Flawed and deeply, richly, human.
Debbie was stricken with an aneurysm and was rushed to the hospital. We were told that it was very bad and to prepare for the worst. Miraculously, she survived the trip to the hospital and miraculously, she survived brain surgery and rallied at an astonishing rate. The day after surgery, she was communicating with us and our hopes began to rise. And she took a turn for the worse, and then for the worst. Gut-wrenching and sickening. And then she died.
Since she died, I have felt adrift. I grieve for my brother. I grieve for my nieces and nephew. I grieve that her perfect new granddaughter will only know her from stories and from pictures. That is just one more tragedy, because Debbie was a vital physical presence and pictures will show very little of who she was.
I grieve, selfishly, in advance, as I see what my own children will feel in the future. And I almost cannot bear it.
As I attended her memorial, I was struck by the phrase that I heard over and over again. That God had taken Debbie from us. “We will never know why God took Debbie from us.” “God took her from us too soon.” It clanged in my head, a discordant note … true and not true. I caught my breath a little each time I heard it. I don’t pretend to have any theological understanding, but God is in charge. And I don’t pretend to know anything of theological value. But I guess I have trouble with the notion that God just yanked her away from us — that He is operating on some agenda that does not take into account how much her death would hurt.
So, as I think about it, I know a couple of things. The first is that God loves us. That God loved and adored and delighted in all things Debbie. He loved her enough to sacrifice His son for her and knew her inside and out. She was His Workmanship, created and crafted with love and attention to detail. When she was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to enough machines to monitor a small nuclear plant, I could see, literally see, His hand hovering over her. It was a gesture of love and protection. She rallied, all too briefly, but that period was a gift. Her family got to see her and tell her that they loved her. She already knew it, but it is still nice to hear.
Debbie’s death reminds me that the time that I have here is finite. And although I would want more time with the people that I love, I can’t say that I use well the time that I am given. I hadn’t seen Debbie for a while. Phone calls were few, and we didn’t see each other at recent family gatherings. Shame on me. And I feel bereft — I feel keenly the time that I didn’t share with her as I should have. Time squandered, as if there would be time enough for everything. There isn’t. For me, that is the lesson embedded in the grief of loss.
Even though my faith in Christ is firm, I have still have been struggling with questions that don’t seem to have any good answers. Did she die because she was done on this earth? It doesn’t feel like it — there is still much good to be done. Did He just let her die, as if her life had no merit? I can’t see that. Did He need her in Heaven? Well, we need her more. Wouldn’t it have been okay to hold off a little? Just a bit? Her rallying felt like such a miracle and to give celestial credit where credit is due, it really was a miracle. And I know that God was being generous to give us that much. Selfishly, I could have used a little more. And her children could have used a little more. And her husband could have used just a little more.
I am not angry, precisely, because I do know that death has no victory over Debbie. I know that she has life eternal and that I will see her again. But I am still sad. And I know that she was not carted off by an uncaring God who looked up at the clock and said, “Time’s up!”
So, maybe God did take her, but not in the sense that she was taken away from us. I think that she was His from the beginning and when her body gave out, He just … took her. Gathered her into His arms. Carefully and tenderly, so as not to startle her, and with solemn and joyful welcome. Much as I think Debbie first took her newborn granddaughter into her arms, just weeks ago.
Our loss and grief are well-known to the Lord. He is acquainted with our sorrow, He mourns for our loss, He sees each tear. That is why I always found Revelation 21:4 to be so comforting.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
He knows that we are crying, that we mourn, and that this all hurts. And He asks us to endure this for a time, but it won’t be forever.
So, sister dear, I will see you in Heaven. I will know it is your mansion because there will be a ristra or two on the walls, a glass of iced tea next to a Hopi pot, and maybe a coyote nose peeking around a corner.
You can catch me up on all of the doings when I get there. I am sure that you will have been busy.