Someone asked me how my beliefs about death and the afterlife help with my grief. I didn’t know how to answer her. Thankfully, she wasn’t expecting me to have some eloquent reply. I know her question came from a desire to help me process, not a desire to toy with my already harried emotions.
What do I believe about death and the afterlife? That when someone dies they kinda just go to sleep and have no clue as to what’s happening. If they go to heaven, that happens when Jesus returns…if that’s what the person actually wants. In his great love, Jesus doesn’t force us to live with him forever and, sadly, some folks (for various reasons) aren’t interested.
When I sit with someone in their grief, I don’t say any of that. I follow their lead and respond in ways that honor their belief without lying about my own. It isn’t the time for, “Well, actually…” and it is the time for a lot of listening, a lot of presence over prose.
I find a lot of hope in the resurrection. It’s also quite exciting. I mean, can you imagine folks busting out of graves, ashes coming back together in an amazing tornado-like fashion? Every eye seeing Jesus?
And then there’s last week. As of Tuesday, there’s a wife who doesn’t get to wake up next to her husband. As of Wednesday, there’s a set of parents who no longer get to hear the voice of their young child. As of Thursday, there’s a family that never gets to squeeze their most loving mother/sister/aunt/grandmother. And that’s just in my little world. Hope in the resurrection is wonderful yet they still grieve. We still grieve. The waves crash. My body tenses. My skin tingles/chills. And I’m not even related.
Is my hope about the future supposed to calm my body? Is the underlying assumption from my questioner that grief isn’t just about someone dying but wondering about where they’ll end up in the end? What about when you’re not worried? Should hope still change something, the ache you feel for family members, the shock you still haven’t processed? I thought I’d attempt an answer. But I won’t. There’s something about her question that I’d rather sit with for a little longer. It’s a reminder that not everything needs an answer right away…or at all. And then there’s the reality that I simply don’t have time for that question. Not now, anyway.
Writing this is a way of releasing that question along with the questions I don’t even realize I have. Writing this is a way of looking back at last week then saying, “I don’t know every part of the journey, but I know that we will be okay.” Writing this is a way of entering into a type of rest that’s birthed in the numbness that follows shock.
And though I said I wouldn’t answer the question, writing this is helping me realize that the hope I find in what I believe about death and the afterlife points me toward a loving God who wants nothing more than for all of us to be in a face-to-face relationship with him and graciously gives us the ability to choose. That same loving God is with me as my muscles tense. He’s present. I’m numb but I’m not alone. Numbness lends itself well to isolation, making it harder to process and allow for tears. But I’m not alone. I’m not sure how to explain this relief. All I know is that it’s good.