When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out to the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ (Acts 23:6)
My uncle Richard died last week, and the last several days have been very hard. His passing has tumbled me back into the “pits of grief.” Although I certainly wasn’t over grieving the death of my daughter Anna—and I never will be in this lifetime—I had been getting some relief from the deep pain I had been experiencing. My lows didn’t seem to be as low or as long.
But hearing the news about my uncle took me right back to the early days after Anna had died. It also took me back to the grief of when my uncle’s sister, my mother, died twelve years ago. If a person lives long enough and if they are blessed to have loved and been loved, they will experience how the grief of one person’s passing can bring back the grief of all those they have lost.
In losing my daughter and then my uncle in such a short period of time, I’m reminded that not all deaths cause the same kind of grief. Losing a child is grief no one can understand who hasn’t gone through it. Last week someone said, “I can imagine what you are going through,” and I had to say, kindly but clearly, “I beg to differ. Unless you have lost a child, and you haven’t, you can’t know or imagine the depth of the grief. For the sake of your own mind and soul, don’t even try.”
Three weeks ago, my uncle’s son had written to the family, asking us to write a letter to Richard because he had just been put into hospice. What are the last words you want to say to someone as they leave this life? Gratitude and love. I thought about what I wanted to say for an evening and then got up the next morning and wrote it.
Writing this letter helped me to find my voice about losing my daughter. I hadn’t been able to write since Anna’s death in July, but almost immediately after finishing my letter to Richard, words about Anna began to come to my mind from my heart.
My uncle had had an entire life; my daughter didn’t. I believe he had made his peace with who he was and what he had done, but my daughter hadn’t. He was tired and ready to let go of this life, but my daughter, even though she must have been tired of her own struggles, wasn’t ready to be done.
After hearing the news of Richard’s passing, Lucy suggested that I read my mother’s eighty-page document of her memories and reflections on the family, which she wrote a few years before she died. Although she said that she collected these remembrances for all of her and Richard’s children and grandchildren, it was also clear that she wrote to thank those who had gone before and to work through some missing pieces or hard places in her own relationships.
I read through my mother’s words in one sitting. I laughed a lot, and I cried some. It was like hearing her talk around the kitchen table. The memory/story that spoke most directly to me was a note great-aunt Pickie had asked my mother to put into her sister’s hands as she lay in her coffin at the funeral home. Neither Pickie nor Nanny had ever been married, and they had lived together for ninety-five years. When Pickie asked my mother to slip her note into Nanny’s hands, my mother—this is just like her—asked for a copy.
Here’s what the note said: “Dear God—I am sending you my most precious possession. She is very tired, so please meet her at the gate and help her over the step into Heaven. Be good to her until it is my time to come. I am her sister Pickie.”
The faith woven into this note is exactly what I needed to be reminded of as I was going through my own layers of grief. Pickie had a sure and firm hope that God was there, that God would meet Nanny and help her step into Heaven, and that God will someday greet her, Pickie, and reunite her with all those who have gone before.
In today’s scripture, Paul is on trial for his “hope of the resurrection.” Even though most of us will never have to be on trial for our faith, we will—if we live long enough and have the great joy of being loved and loving others—will go through the trials and pain and grief of saying goodbye to many of those who are most precious to us.
Pickie’s note helped me locate and lean into my faith that this life isn’t all there is and that someday we will see Jesus face-to-face. We can go through those trials of grief and loss when we hold fast to our faith in the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that He will someday raise us to join all those who are now in God’s nearer presence. This hope in the resurrection helps us to know that we aren’t saying goodbye to those we love; instead, we are saying, “Go in peace. Someday I shall see you again in the loving embrace of your Father and my Father.”
As I said to begin this reflection, the last several days have been hard, but they have also—finally—been filled with hope and faith. Someday, pray to God I will see Richard again and my mother Alice again, and my daughter Anna again. What a reunion of joy that will be.
- Who are those you have lost? What did they mean to you?
- What does “the hope of the resurrection” mean to you?
- Before you leave this life, what do you need to do, need to say, need to let go of, and need to be thankful for?