I have experienced quite a lot of death in the past year(ish). It is definitely something I would rather not have to deal with, but as people always say, death is a part of life. So in this post I am going to walk through some of the pain that I have concerning death and losing loved ones. Hopefully, it will help.
I lost two of my grandparents before I could really remember much-my mom's mom and my dad's dad. I never knew my maternal grandmother and all the memories I have of my paternal grandfather come from pictures. I recently found out this past Christmas that I was actually in England when my paternal grandfather died and I could have seen him before he died, but my aunts/uncles didn't want us to be there and get upset. I was really upset to hear that I could have been there in my grandfather's last moments, but I was kept away. I guess that is kind of the story of all of my family deaths.
My maternal grandfather died when I was still young-maybe ten, I'm not really sure. He died in England, while my family was in Florida. I was young and asked whether it was mom's dad or dad's dad-I couldn't remember. Well, this upset my mom and my older brother snapped at me-that is probably the most vivid part of my memory of my maternal grandfather's death. I didn't go to the funeral service or memorial or anything-I had school and things to take care of in the states, but my mom went. I guess I am kind of curious now as to how it went, I wasn't then.
Intermittent throughout the rest of my adolescence were deaths, but they were friends of my parents and it didn't really affect me. I was till under the impression that I was invincible and that death wasn't likely to happen to me.
Perhaps the hardest death I have experienced happened last January. Last year was my first year in the School of Divinity and my very first class in Graduate School was New Testament I with Dr. Goodman. I had heard a lot of horror stories from students about difficult the class was going to be and ho hard I would have to work just to get even a B. The limited experience I had in encounters with Dr. Goodman, he just seemed to have an unbelievable presence and it was clear that this man knew what he was talking about; I was more than a little intimidated. So when I first walked into class, I spent the first class worried to death that I was going to fail the class or else say something stupid and be made a fool in front of this genius of a man. Well as the year went on, I was not so stressed about this class and I actually fell in love with Dr. Goodman’s teaching style and his overflowing wealth of knowledge. I never dreaded getting up at 7 on Monday mornings and I was always eager to hear what new mind-shattering information Dr. Goodman had to tell us that day. It was easily my favorite class that semester. In fact, I was upset when I heard that Dr. Goodman would be taking a sabbatical and would not be teaching in the Spring-I wanted to take as many classes as I could with this man! Almost everyday before class started, Dr. Goodman would read a selection from a sermon or piece written by Frederick Buechner and I couldn’t get enough of what this man had to say; sometimes I felt that he was speaking directly to me. For my birthday, a friend of mine bought me a collection of Buechner’s work as a daily devotional-it was amazing! And I was so excited to tell Dr. Goodman about it; however, my birthday was during exams and I never found time between studying for and taking exams and dealing with my residents in my building to go and talk to Dr. Goodman about it. No problem, I would catch one day when he came in next semester.
The next semester started and life, as always was stressful at the beginning of the semester, so once again I did not have much free time. And then I received a phone call on January thirteenth from Meagan Allen asking if I had heard about Dr. Goodman. I said no and asked what happened. She told me that he had had a heart attack; I asked if he was ok. She said no, and that he had died. I just broke down.
Granted I had not known Dr. Goodman as much as some of the other students and faculty, but in the small amount of time in which I knew him, he had had a huge impact on my life and I couldn’t believe he had died. I would never get another opportunity to tell him how much I loved his class or the fact that I was reading Buechner. Death was a foreign concept to me; I had lost grandparents, but I was too young to really remember their deaths. I went to class that day numb, not sure what to expect from the faculty or the students. When I got there, there wasn’t the usual bustle, instead everyone sat silently-not sure what to do. Dr. Canoy came in and gave some detail about how it happened and told us about a memorial service at 1 in the chapel. Then he told us we could leave and left himself. I didn’t know what to do; I was too stunned to just get up and leave. So I just sat in my seat and started crying. Claire Torrence was sitting beside me and offered me a tissue and we just sat there crying for I don’t know how long. Eventually I gathered myself enough to get up and walk back to my room; however, I knew I couldn’t sit in my room by myself, so I went to lunch in the cafeteria. Probably not the best idea, as I said before people can usually tell when something is wrong and so I spent my time in the cafeteria crying to my friends when they asked what was up. After lunch I went over to the chapel and found a seat next to a friend and once again started crying as people began sharing their stories about Dr. Goodman. I don’t think I have ever cried more in my life than I did that day. Death is not something I like to deal with, especially when it is premature.
When I had gotten over the initial grief of Dr. Goodman’s death (which lasted a number of days), I shifted to anger. It is very difficult to find comfort in God when you are experiencing so much pain and hurt. I was angry at the fact that people didn’t care; that they lived their lives as if nothing had happened. I was angry that we were starting up classes again so quickly, without giving students and faculty time to collect themselves. I was angry with every Sunday School answer that people gave me about death and how Dr. Goodman was in a better place, or my favorite ‘God must have needed him more than we did’. But most of all I was angry at God; angry that he took someone who I really admired and sought to learn from, angry that he had taken him when he was still young leaving behind a wife and two growing boys. I was angry that God wouldn’t answer my questions that I continued to raise before Him. I was so angry that I stopped talking with God; if he wasn’t going to talk to me, why should I bother talking to Him? Not only that but if I did have a good day, I felt guilty because I felt like I should be constantly mourning the loss of Dr. Goodman. I felt like no one understood what I was going through and so I kept it all inside, showing outwardly that I was upset, but choosing not to reveal what was going on and my anger about Dr. Goodman’s death.
Somehow I made it day by day (don’t ask me how, for the most part I don’t remember the specifics of those days) and managed to go on with life. However, I never let go of that anger and almost hatred that I held for God. Each week dragged by with friends constantly asking me how I was and me shrugging it off and saying I was just having a bad day and that everything would be ok. It wasn’t until Dr. Qualls asked to sit down and have lunch together that I realized how impossible it was for me to come to terms with this event if I didn’t turn to God. The more I ignored Him and went out of my way to be angry at Him, the less I would be able to heal and find comfort. After lunch, I decided it was time to talk to God again. I went to Dover Chapel and went into the prayer room just to the left as you enter. I grabbed a Bible and just opened it; it was one of those devotional bibles that have sections devoted to various topics. The page I opened to spoke about God answering if we seek after Him, referencing the verses in Matthew about knocking, etc. Well, I do not believe in coincidence, so I knew there was some importance to this, so I got on my knees and just began pouring out to God, asking my questions and seeking some comfort. Well, a few hours passed (it didn’t feel like I had been there that long) and even though I didn’t have the answers to my questions, I did have an overwhelming feeling of comfort-something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Even as I write this now, I find tears coming to my eyes, every time I think about it, I can't help but feel the pain and sorrow that surrounded me during that time.
Well, a few months down the road, my paternal grandmother was not doing well. She was dealing with broken bones that would never heal, as well as memory loss. She couldn't recognize her children or grandchildren. Once again, I was not able to visit her before she died in April. Not only that, but I was away from my family. I was torn apart. I broke down a lot during this time, especially to one particular friend (of whom I am greatly appreciative) and didn't want to be around people. However, I will say that if I had not experienced the death earlier in the year-I don't know how I would have handled it when my grandmother died. I did not get to go the funeral service, however, it was recorded on a tape and my family and I listened to it over the summer. It still hurts, but I refuse to fall into despair.
Death hurts. Period. It is never easy to lose someone you love and be expected to go about things normally. My advice is to take the time to grieve; find someone you can cry to, scream to, pray with, take comfort from. But most importantly, don't turn from God-it doesn't remove the hurt and only furthers the feelings of isolation. "It is in those moments, my son, when I carried you."
In memory of all the loved ones lost,