Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Death and Community

First of all, a most sincere and profound thank you to all of you who have been supporting me and my family after the death of my father-in-law. The cards, phone calls, prayers, food, hugs, attendance at prayer services and the memorial service last Sunday, have all been so good for the family - for my wife, her sister, and their mother. This has been a very difficult time for them, but the overwhelming support they have felt from so many people has helped them. Thank you.

I, myself, haven't yet really begun to mourn John's passing. Soon after we received the news, I decided to fly to Mexico to join Susan there and help bring her back. We didn't want her travelling alone, and we thought it would be good to have someone there to handle the mundane details so that she could focus on grieving. (If I were to be completely honest, I also felt like seeing the place might make this unbelievable news more real to me. It didn't, but I'm glad I went for Susan.) Then, when we got back, I was needed to be a support for my wife. So, even now, I haven't really given time to mourning the loss of John. I imagined myself putting this aside for a time, in order to better serve my family. But at the memorial service I began to feel all of that tremendous well of loss, sadness and emotion, and I could hardly keep myself from tearing through the entire service.

I managed to say a few words from the pulpit without completely breaking up, though barely. But aside from that time, when composure was necessary for performance, I just sat and quietly cried nearly the entire evening. Singing those hymns was impossible - they were some of John's favorites, of course, but they were also communal confessions of faith and hope, and as such were so unusually filled with meaning just then that they caused more choking down of sobs than melody. I just couldn't sing them. I wanted to sing them, I just couldn't get the words to form through my grief.

Then, the more than 600 people gathered behind me in the pews and balcony filled the sanctuary with song. Even if I couldn't sing for myself, I felt like my community was there picking up my portion of the song and singing for me in my stead.

Perhaps it's silly - thinking that singing a hymn could be a ministry, or that everyone was singing it in some small part to help me out. But it seemed to me at the time (and still does) a good representation of community: sorrows are divided, joys are multiplied, burdens are shared, and in my moment of weakness and grief not only my load but even my own self is carried on by others.

I imagine that this applies to John as well. I don't think there's some consciousness of John out there that experiences it, but I do think in some meaningful way John is still with us - lifted up, his load and his personhood taken up by the body and continuing the journey.

Thank you for singing over my crying, for singing the song I wanted to be sung but couldn't sing myself, for carrying my load for me for a time. It is a terrible loss in John's death, but there is some measure of real testimony to his life and joy in the fact of so many people being willing - eager, even - to lift him up, take on his load, and continue on the journey. And that, though it makes me cry now, will be joy to me soon.

Thank you.



  • As I read this my eyes began to moisten a little. John will be surely missed!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:30 PM  

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