This has been a tough week.
I’ve been a pastor for 18 years 1, and in that time I’ve dealt with a lot of death. It kinda comes with the calling. But in those 18 years the deaths I’ve dealt with have almost always come after a recognizable struggle and decline in health. I’ve walked with people as the expression of their personhood changed when death drew near. Sometimes this transition was quick, and other times it stretched out over the course of years. But in all cases it allowed me an opportunity to grieve a person’s transition as they progressed. And this has often helped me be present with families as they stepped into full-blown grief 2. It’s been a privilege to walk with folks on this journey. It’s not easy, but it’s been good.
My friend Peg is the first person who just sat down and went to sleep, and never woke up.
It feels different.
In many ways I’m happy for her. She spread nothing but joy everywhere she went, and peace emanated from her. She lived to spread love and joy and peace, and she died peacefully. If anyone deserved such an end to their earthly journey, she did.
In other ways, however, processing Peg’s death is actually harder for me. Instead of seeing the end coming, which would have allowed me to begin preparing myself and take the first steps of grief, I’m starting from a dead stop. I don’t even have an accident to bemoan, a villain to accuse, or a disease to curse which can help me focus as I begin this journey. Peg just died. She died at peace, doing something she loved, but there was very little warning. It’s putting me in a bit of a fog, to be honest. I feel off.
And what is the path forward in this fog? Ironically, for me, it’s the very action in which I notice Peg’s physical absence the most – worship.
Peg adored worship. She loved learning, and could ask me questions about my sermons that would send me scatting to do research, but even more she loved being in God’s presence surrounded by her church family. She sang with a huge smile on her face while pretending not to dance 3. Worship was her native environment, and her presence buoyed me on more than one occasion.
So how one earth would the action that most reminds me of Peg’s absence help me forward through grief? It actually easy if you’re a mystic. A mystical understanding of worship sees our gathering together as joining the throne room scene in Revelation. As we gather together, we step into the crowd of the “saints in heaven” and join them in the eternal praise to the one who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb 4. So, for me, joining those who have gone before me is a close as my next worship gathering. Peg may be gone from worshipping with me as an embodied spirit 5, but mystically she still worshiping with the saints on earth even now.
And that includes me. And it includes all the wonderful saints I’ve shepherded into eternity throughout the years as well. This doesn’t make the ache of loss go away 6 but does give me a joy to experience even in grief. That’s a good thing.
- Two as an interim in Massachusetts and Sixteen at Central. ↩
- Pastors tend to grieve in very small circles because when someone dies we have work to do. We still need to grieve, but we pursue it differently. Again, it comes with the calling. ↩
- She was ordered to stop dancing at one point because her balance was getting shaky. I remember singing with Central’ Bluegrass band once while Peg was dancing, she lost her balance and fell backward on the grass. I literally thought I’d killed the sweetest person on earth. When I rushed up to her, however, she had a big grin on her face as she looked me in the eyes and said, “That’s the first time I’ve fallen for a man in a long time!” There isn’t a single point of that story that’s an exaggeration. ↩
- The “prophesy” books people put out on Revelation don’t really pay attention to the book. ↩
- Until the resurrection, that is. ↩
- I actually think the ache of grief a painful gift which fixates a person’s memory in our hearts. It’s not an easy gift, but it’s a good one. ↩