I imagine that looking down my “Previous Addresses” feels like a rattling roller coaster. I write about ordination, dreams, a friend’s music, writing and, now, death. I hope you hang in with me as I blather about what may seem like scattered things.
So the last post was on dreams; this one, death.
My wife’s cousin (which makes him my cousin in law) died. I don’t know when he died. That bothers me because I love to know things. I love to know details like times and dates. There’s cruelty in not knowing when Christopher died. We know when he was born. We know that he too recently graduated and started studying at Columbia College downtown. We know he was an artist and a merciful friend. We know he drowned. We don’t know when.
Christopher died and probably more days ago than are bearable to think of. He died after enjoying an evening with friends, after jumping in Lake Michigan with those friends to swim, and after helping save the life of one of those friends. His body was recovered after what felt like countless days. He was identified. My heart lurched when I asked Dawn if her aunt and uncle had to identify the body. There is something unnatural about a parent burying a child. Absolutely. But even that sounds to my mind like a bit less tramatic–and no these traumas can’t be compared–than identifying your child’s body after it’s been submerged all those days.
We funeralized and memorialized Christopher in two gatherings, one Saturday mostly for family and a few friends, the other Sunday afternoon where friends and fellow artists packed into the tiny Bond Chapel on the U of C’s campus. In both places words were spoken over this man’s memory. The priest, the friend, the relative–all of us thought of this young man’s life. It was short, but it was full. Even with its fullness, the grief of seeing his life end makes me feel robbed. Robbed of his smile. Robbed of the nod in his head as we passed on 53rd Street. Robbed of his concern and question, “How’s Dawn and the baby?”
The one way I’m making sense of this is by thinking about hope beyond the grave, whether that grave is a temporary crack under a large lake or a “permanent” resting place like the plots in Oakwoods or Mt. Hope or Lincoln. I’m thinking about what Christian theologians call the Christian hope. It’s the hope that speaks to the day and days when all our griefs are remedied by God’s good finish to this part of life.
It’s a fantastic claim that the Christian scriptures make: God will make all things new. Ponder that, even if you don’t believe it. Ponder, if you will, God making new.
Believing that we have a hope is a kind of dream. It’s elusive. It can be captured and it can’t. Sure, it’s a belief, a matter of faith. I come to these beliefs daily and not just when death gets this close or closer. I make these claims and press them upon people as a matter of vocation. And like pastors before me, it seems so much easier to speak about hope than, at times, to have it. I’m grateful for those splendid minutes when long hope and faith and belief feel much stronger than pain, anguish, and sorrow. It stands far off sometimes, but hope comes closer, at least eventually, after pain.
If there is something to be said when death comes and opens its large hand to take or escort or snatch or accompany a loved one, it is that death is much less powerful than the hope we have. Of course, it’s a hope in Christ. Nothing else. Just him. For some, that’s literally unbelievable. For others of us, it’s simply what we have.