One Year Later in a Journey of Grief

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Natchez Trace Trail

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Last May my best friend died after a six-year battle with breast cancer. Karen showed great courage in facing her disease and lived life to the fullest, remaining asymptomatic over most of the course of her disease. I visited her in Hospice a couple of weeks before she died, and tomorrow I return to the city where she lived to meet with some of her beloved friends to reminiscence. The deep sense of loss remains palpable, an ache in my heart, and it remains difficult to face the fact that she is gone, at least this side of eternity. I believe in the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” but emotionally that promise often seems too good to be true when facing the finality of a loved one’s death. I long for a “visitation” from her, as may loved ones of the dead have experienced, but then I feel guilty, remembering Jesus‘ words that “an evil and corrupt generation seeks after a sign.” I wonder if I received a visitation, such as a few days ago when I was at a stream near the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, and two butterflies kept landing on me–Karen loved butterflies (which are also a traditional symbol of the resurrection), and her boyfriend released some after her funeral. But then I doubt since butterflies like to drink the sweat off people. Rage at God taking her away all too soon fights it out with guilt at my own lack of faith, and fear that that lack will separate me from God–and from her. Soon my journey in grief will be a literal journey, and I pray that God will grant all of us who visit places of fond memory that we will rejoice in those memories while realizing the extent of loss, realizing that grief for a loved one only eases but never ultimately comes to an end. If God be so gracious that we sense her presence with us, thanks be to Him; if not, we should still thankful for her life and the promise that this life is not all there is.

I marvel at those individuals who believe in God but deny life after death. St. Paul said in I Corinthians 15 that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” This is not egotistical; it is an acknowledgement of the value of others, a value that can only be truly sensed by love. I have hope in Christ. I have doubts. “Lord, I believe; pardon Thou my unbelief!” When the veil is parted and reality in its fullness is finally revealed, may those of us who knew and cherished Karen embrace her and speak with her once more. For those reading who mourn loved ones, I pray that you discover the hope beyond all hope, that “this body of death” will “rise in newness of life” in a world where love never dies, and neither do those we love.

To Christopher Hitchens: All the Best

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Christopher Hitchens

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There is a fascinating story and interview at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/14/christopher-hitchens-cancer-interview

Christopher Hitchens, one of the best known of the “new atheists,” has been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Although I disagree with his position on God’s existence, I wish him the very best in his treatment and I hope he recovers. And yes, I will say a prayer for him as will thousands, perhaps millions, of other believers, and there has even been a “Let’s Pray for Hitchens Day.” Believers in God should take care not to do anything out of mean spiritedness or “I told you so,” but only from genuine concern that Mr. Hitchens will recover from a terrible disease.

In May I lost my best friend to cancer–in her case, breast cancer. She was lucky to have been asymptomatic for most of the six years of the recurrence of the disease she thought she had beaten two years earlier. Yet when things began to wind down, she was in a great deal of pain, and her strong runner’s body bore the weight of the ravages of cancer. I wish this disease on no one. Christians should be wary about any hints of claiming any divine retribution against Mr. Hitchens. He engaged in some habits (smoking and drinking a bit much now and then. for example) that probably had more to do with his condition than any act of the deity. And I would have great difficulties affirming the goodness of a God who would directly inflict this terrible disease on anyone, including anyone who does not believeĀ  in God.

With those caveats, I will pray for Mr. Hitchens and for all people who suffer from the ravages of cancer and other terrible diseases. Of course I hope that Mr. Hitchens changes his mind about God’s existence, but if not, I hope he recovers, even if that means he remains a pain in the … for theists for a long time to come.