Are there any places in your heart that feel heavy or unresolved due to losing a loved one? We are all unique and experience loss in our own way. One thing we have in common is access to the God of all comfort. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor. 1:3-4 There are times to simply receive, and there are times to be the comforter for another.
As I begin to compose this blog post, it’s been less than a week since my older brother passed away. The hardest part about losing a loved one, are those occasions when you never had the chance to say goodbye. Bob had been battling cancer for years, but when we spoke on the phone about a month ago, there was no imminent threat of death. I received the phone call while in Colorado visiting our daughter. It was a shock to my system. The whole scenario felt unnatural. I was away from home; Bob’s wife tried to call me but had the wrong number; so I ended up receiving the news via my son. If you have lost a person close to your heart, in a tragic accident, or sudden fatal illness, I pray God’s comfort in your loss. My solace came from the inner circle of family – my wife, three children, and daughter-in-law. Prayer support most of all, and then the critical link of processing by phone, text, and some tears.
To top it all off, I later discovered that there was no funeral or memorial service planned. I empathize with families who have lost loved ones in circumstances that made reunion impossible. No coffin, no memorial, no felt presence of extended family and friends at a formal gathering. So I plan to rummage through the container of family photos in the garage. At the risk of more tears, I need to remember Bob’s life afresh.The day I heard of his death, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart: Endings are the beginning of new reflections. Bob was a good brother, and to my children he was a solid uncle.
Unlike my brother’s death I had ample opportunity to prepare for the loss of my parents. As my mom aged, she was stricken with Alzheimer’s. It was the long goodbye as they say, losing a person when their cognitive process fails, and then again when they physically die. In the interim period of mom’s enduring eight years of a cruel mental wilderness, I learned at a deeper level what it means to love and serve.To my surprise, dad took care of her almost exclusively at our family home, where she died in her own bed. Dad and I were both on the same team, sharing a common purpose as caregivers. These became some of our best father/son years.
In his later years dad became sick and spent his final two years in a nursing home. We had many special visits in that season, during which time I was tasked with selling our family home. I relived a ton of memories, especially in the basement, one of my frequent play areas as a young boy. I had a few hearty cries, reliving memories and knowing that I was forever saying goodbye to this place I had called “home” since I was two years old. A simultaneous farewell, to my father, and to the only home I ever knew, left my heart in a delicate balance.
I wept at Dad’s grave as two Marines folded up and handed me the American flag that was draped over his coffin. That flag sits encased in my family room today, along with his military photos. A year after he died, we relocated to our present residence in Kansas City, Missouri. For the first couple of years I had many a time of being prompted, “I should give Dad a call”, only to remind myself of the stark reality of his absence.
On our annual summer trek from Missouri to our hometown in Upstate New York, we have faithfully stopped in Ohio, to have dinner with Bob and his wife. Bob and I had occasional phone calls, where we would talk politics, one of his favorite topics. He also had a way of telling family stories that had me in tears laughing. Next summer, my clock is going to tell me that it’s time to pass through Ohio for dinner with Bob. The pain of his absence will be a reminder of the good times we shared. Creating space to say farewell is healthy for the heart, and it’s okay to take your time. Thanks for taking a few minutes of your time, to join me today.