But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord, they do not understand His plan, that He has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
There are lots of things in life that are hard to understand. Calculus, taxes, home appliance repair, how to raise a child—these are a few examples. Thankfully, we don’t all have to be great at advanced math, there are people we can call to repair our homes and do our taxes and as for raising a child, for those of us who have them, we have our triumphs and make our mistakes but we learn.
Losses are part of life. Some are irritating. For instance, when it rains and we lose the day at the beach we were planning, or our favorite restaurant is out of the dish we were looking forward to eating. These losses annoy us on the day they happen but they are quickly forgotten. There will be other nice days to go to the beach, and our favorite restaurant will have our favorite meal another day. We know that. And we get over these losses.
Other losses are harder, because it takes a lot more to come back from them. When we lose a job, there are often financial consequences. When we have to move, it’s hard to build a life again. When the stock market takes a dive, it often takes years to recover. And when a marriage collapses, there are long-term consequences, which hopefully lessen with time.
The hardest loss, and therefore the hardest thing to wrap our minds around is death. Because it is so permanent and final. There is no do-over. There is the hope to buy another house, get another job, see improvement in the stock market, even get remarried. But when someone dies, there will never be another them. Both of my parents are deceased, and even though there are some people I still look to as a “mother” or “father” figure, there is no one else I will call “mom” or “dad.”
We know that loss is part of life. Just today, I planned to go outside and do something and it rained, my plans for the day were lost. I know that, I accept that, I understand that. We even know that death is part of life. People get old and they die. Children bury their parents, we know that. And yet it is hard to understand how that happens and when that happens. I was speaking with someone whose husband passed away from cancer only six weeks after he was diagnosed. He was just 64. No one in her family—not her, not him, not their children—thought that last Christmas was going to be his last one, or that their vacation last summer would be their last trip, or that even six weeks ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, that the end would come so quickly. And now that it happened, everyone is left shaking their head wondering how and why. We know people get sick and some illnesses end in death, but why him, why now, why like this? I have known people in my ministry who were very health-conscious who died in their 50s. And I know people who abused their bodies and lived into their 80s.
The only permanent loss is death. Other losses may end up being permanent, but there is always the hope that other losses can be recovered. With death, there is no such hope.
The other thing that is hard to understand is the destination, heaven. Where is it, what is it like, what will our loved ones be doing there—these are also questions we struggle to understand. If more of these unknowns were known, perhaps death would be easier to grasp. If there was some way that our loved ones could communicate with us regularly, i.e. send us photos or something like that, this would make it easier.
This is where faith comes in. There are so many unknowns about the end of life and what comes next, that we either live in faith, or we live in fear, or we live without thought about it, which results in fear at the end.
It is so important that we take time to think about death. It is the common destiny for all of us. It literally can happen at any time. It can happen in a great variety of ways.
When we know it’s coming, even if we only have a few days or weeks to prepare, it is important that we do so, for our own souls, and for our families. For both the person dying and the family that will be left behind, it is important to say goodbyes, when we know death is coming. It is also important to take care of practical details like wills, possessions and funeral plans.
When it happens, it is important to take time to grieve. I will never understand why people think they have to be stoic when someone passes away. The Bible tells us that even Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus. He stood in front of the tomb of His friend and He cried. In the grieving process, it is important to take time. A big and permanent (and especially sudden) loss takes time to process. For friends, that might only take a few days. For family and close friends it will take much longer. Some people start to heal at the funeral. But for many people, especially those who were close, it takes much longer. Many have benefited from counseling or grief support groups, to not only try to understand, but on an even more basic level, to cope with loss.
And then there are the losses which we can’t understand, like the death of a young person, or sudden accident or tragedy. For these, the operative word becomes “management,” not how can I get over this, but how can I manage my grief and still be productive, still find joy. I know, unfortunately, many people who have buried a child, including several close friends. I will never tell them to move on. I will never try to find an explanation for something for which there isn’t one. I will encourage them to manage their grief. To find a special place to remember a child while still experiencing the fullness of life, including love, joy and laughter. And I suppose the same could be said for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one regardless of the circumstances. Take time to grieve. Then give yourself permission to laugh and feel joy. Manage what cannot and need not be overcome.
We don’t have to completely understand death or master the concept of why people die. We have to manage it.
Deal bountifully with Thy servant, that I may live and observe Thy word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. I am a sojourner on earth; hide not Thy commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for Thy ordinances at all times. Thou dost rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from Thy commandments; take away from me their scorn and contempt, for I have kept Thy testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, Thy servant will meditate on Thy statutes. Thy testimonies are my delight, they are my counselors.
Some things we will never understand and that’s okay. Some things we will never overcome, but we need to manage those. Death—the how, when and why—is hard to understand and that’s okay. And some losses we will never get over, we just have to manage them and that’s okay.