Today, it’s been a year. A year since my loveliest pal Allie called me around 10 am and gave me the awful news. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said. So I thought sharing this article that I wrote last fall for modernloss.org would be best. Best for my mental and emotional health, and the best way for me personally to mark this day. I’m not sure how this 29th of January, 2014 will go. I know I’ll be thinking about my dear friend a little more than normal. And thanking God for the little blessings that came out of 2013, even in the dark transition of getting used to the silence and empty space she left behind. I’m really still just getting used to it.
I still miss her all the time. I’m told I always will. Death is a weird part of life, I’m learning.
I leaned over her bed and hugged her goodbye. I’d never let her see me cry. But that night, with her eyes closed, deep in slumber, my tears fell on her face as I leaned in for one last hug. I said goodbye to Christie, my dear friend of 13 years, at age 27, after a two-year battle with brain cancer. The next morning, Christie died.
When the unthinkable happened, I leaned into my faith. I devoured all the scripture and teachings I could find about what happens when we die. The Bible gives a limited view of Heaven and it leans heavily on metaphor to describe it. I’m a visual person and there’s nothing I want more than to be able to picture where Christie is. I want specifics: What does it look like? Who else is there? What’s she doing? The Bible promises that nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:38) So I know she’s deeply loved where she is. But the Bible doesn’t give many specifics about what it’s really like in Heaven. At least not in a way that a human being can make much sense of.
Over time, we’ve created a lot of cartoons in our minds to help us imagine a peaceful place for our loved ones to spend eternity. Rolling grassy hills, rainbows, fluffy clouds to sleep on, harps to play and yellow-brick roads to frolic down. When Christie died, some well-meaning people would say things like, “She’s an angel watching over us, now. God needed another angel in his army. She got her wings, today.” That made me so angry because I knew none of it was true. There’s nothing in the Bible to back any of that up.
All I know is this: Christie’s spirit is in Heaven with Jesus—whatever that looks like–and she will remain there with him until he returns to Earth to raise the dead and rebuild creation. She’s surrounded by love and joy, with pain and cancer far away. I believe all of this to be true, because it can be Biblically backed up. But as someone who studies language and communication, I’m working on letting go of the desire to put rich, descriptive words to what happened to Christie when she died. For this- there are none. For me, that has made keeping faith while walking through grief, incredibly difficult.
When our loved ones die, we’re supposed to rejoice in their passing. We’re supposed to focus on the hope. Remind ourselves that they’re in a better place and that we’ll see them again, someday. Really believe it.
But let me be honest with you. That’s no easy thing.
I know the hope of eternal life in my head. I believe it in my heart. But there have been many days since Christie died that my heart is so overcome by missing her, the sting of not being able to talk to her, the pain of remembering the best times as we came of-age together—that there’s no room in my heart for the hope. Just the pain. That’s a dark place to be. It makes me feel far from God, it makes me doubt, and sometimes I even feel guilty for forgetting to be happy for Christie.
When I can’t help but ask questions that will continue to go unanswered as long as I’m alive, when I’m haunted by memories of seeing her open casket, when I forget that she’s in Heaven and it is all good and well with her soul, when lots of the things I always knew to be true about God and Christianity get all mucked up and confused–I’m learning to let myself sit in the uncomfortable places and invite God into them. I’m relying on God to ease the pain that singes my chest day after day. And when I invite Him in–He always shows up.
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, the shortest verse in the Bible was written, “Jesus wept”. He cried over the death of his friend. Knowing this, I’m set free to weep over Christie for as long as I need to. Even if I never stop. And I’ll cling to the hope that Christie will one day be raised from the dead, just as Lazarus was. And I will see her again.