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.

Fundamentalists and Afterdeath Communication

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Comfort in Grief

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I listened to a fine talk tonight at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina by Louis LaGrand on extraordinary experiences of those grieving a loved one. Many of these individuals have an experience of the loved one communicating with them, ranging from an intuition of the deceased person’s presence to a full-body apparition carrying on a conversation with the surviving loved one. Many people who have such experiences, which as LaGrand noted, are really “ordinary” rather than “extraordinary” (millions of people have them) are given a cold shoulder by fundamentalists from two camps: the religious and the secular.

Secular fundamentalists who accept materialism as their religion would reject such experiences as subjective hallucinations. No matter what veridical evidence the grieving person offered, the secular fundamentalist would automatically reject it. These secular fundamentalists are often college and university professors who should be open minded, but who would not hesitate to ostracize or even threaten the job of an academic who dares to take these experiences as possibly objective or real. If secular fundamentalists are wrong about exceptional experiences being hallucinatory only, then their entire world view would be undermined. Their religious faith in secularism would be destroyed. And since many secularists are still in adolescent rebellion against an overly rigid religious upbringing, they will insist that any evidence contrary to their own views is invalid, the facts be damned.

The same is true of religious fundamentalists. Protestant fundamentalists, for example, will say, “The Bible says the dead don’t contact us and we shouldn’t contact them. If anything does contact us, it’s probably a demon rather than a loved one.” Of course they ignore Samuel’s vision of Saul rising up from Sheol, but they claim that was a one-time exception due to the permission of God.

The ignorance of Christian fundamentalists lies primarily in their claiming to know more than they really do. How do they know what state human souls are in between death and resurrection? How do they know whether the Biblical injunctions against mediumship and communication with the dead applied to such practices in pagan religious circles? How do they know that God would not give permission to a deceased individual, in certain cases, to communicate with a living person who needs comfort? I have always been impressed by the intellectual pretense and arrogance of fundamentalism, both Christian and secular. Both ignore the possibility that deceased loved ones may indeed be contacting their grieving friends and relatives. Both ignore a potential way through exceptional experiences to comfort the grieving in their loss.