14 May 2011

An Elegy for My Grandfather

From my grandfather's memorial service today
14 May 2011

This is the second time in under a year that I've gotten up in front of a group like this to speak about someone we've loved and lost. Finding fitting words for days such as these is a daunting task -- there is nothing to say that will ease the ache, nothing to say that will fill the spot that his death has made empty. Words cannot do that. My grandfather's death reminds us of what we all know in our hearts: it's not supposed to be this way, whether the one who dies is 16 days old or 88 years old. It reminds us that the world is a fallen and imperfect place.

Before we were married, I was lamenting to my husband about some particular evil, telling him how it broke my heart. It surprised me when he said, "That's a good thing." Puzzled, I asked what he meant. He explained, "The only healthy response to a fallen world is brokenness." He was right. As backwards as it may have sounded, my broken heart was a good thing.

My grandfather was not just a good man, but among the best of men. He loved hard work, and he knew how to play hard, too. He loved his family deeply and adored his wife. He was an artist and a craftsman. He was kind and generous with himself. He had a wonderfully jovial and childlike spirit, and always a twinkle in his eye. Greetings and goodbyes came with a wink and an impish grin. He never had a harsh word for or about anyone. And he would probably hate that I had gone even this far in describing him, becuase he was a humble man, and a man of vibrant faith. He was not perfect, but he was amongst the kindest and best of men.

When we buried our son seven months ago, we heard a lot of things from people that were well-intentioned and meant to be comforting, but really missed the mark -- things like, "Don't cry. He's in heaven now," or "You should be glad that he isn't suffering anymore." As true as these things are, they were not comfort. It felt like our grief was being minimized, like they were trying to talk us out of our sadness. But we knew what we had lost, and no amount of talking was going to make our broken world look whole again.

There is room in our faith for such brokenness. In Chapter 11 of Saint John's gospel, we are told that "Jesus wept," -- these tears coming just before Jesus raised His friend from the dead. In 1 Thessalonians, Saint Paul encourages the church to grieve, but not to grieve without hope as the world does. There is no reason to believe that we have to put on a happy face when someone we love has died. We don't need to pretend that we feel good about it. In our one hand, we can hold the truth that the one we love has gone on to his eternal reward, and in the other, we hold the weight of the ache, the sadness, and the loss. One does not cancel out or mitigate the other. It is not either/or, but both/and.

So I am not going to tell you all the reasons you shouldn't be sad. However true it may be that he has gone on to his heavenly rest, early Monday morning, the world lost not just a good man, but one of the best, and nothing we say will make this broken world whole again. A wife has lost her husband, sons have lost their father, grandkids and great-grandkids their grandfather, and a whole community, their friend. Though we carry in us the hope that he, like Christ, will rise again, today we grieve because the one we love has died.

See the Memorial Video here.