I’ve been thinking a lot about death this week, and grief, and of the unfulfilled longing that lingers in the air around Advent. Before anything happened in Connecticut, and my heart stopped beating for my own fears and for a few short days beat only for sad mamas and papas and brothers and sisters. Before I couldn’t keep my eyes unglued from the television screen, and I cried in my husband’s arms for fear of losing him, before any of us experienced grief on a macro-scale, I mourned my sweet grandmother again this week.
I held my own private vigil, a 5-minute prayer of anguish and anger, and I let tears stream into my morning coffee, which I sipped from a mug that is hers. I remembered as a child, I would slip downstairs in the brisk New England summer mornings and drink Swiss Miss with Marshmallows from the same mugs, and on special occasions dip a fresh Dunkin’ Donut into the steamy cocoa. I remember being older, and living long, delicious summers with her and we would sit and I would drink tea from the same mugs, and we would watch Anderson Cooper every night and wonder which team he batted for. (She was right, though she died before he came out of the closet.)
So in the early morning light this week, I watched the sun filter through frosted windows onto my desk and I held a silent celebration for what would have been her 87th birthday. And I held a mug, with it’s funny circle handle, and I thanked the Lord that almost every day of the week, I get to drink my coffee and tea out of a mug that belonged to her, and sip soup from one of her bowls, and eat dinner off of one of her plates.
I know there are people that say “it’s just stuff” – and they are right. I get the desire to declutter, to live simply, and to not define ourselves by our possessions. I try really hard to live that way – but the truth of the matter is, when I hold my grandmother’s simple dishes, I feel a deep heart connection to her that will last as long as I do. And so this “stuff” – these ordinary, everyday things, allow me to keep her alive and with me all the time.
Before and right after my grandmother died, I feared and felt death with a vengeance. I still fear and feel it much of the time now. We live in a world cluttered with death and violence and tragedy that strikes me to the core, and sends my head spinning in circles that no one can stop. I live on a busy street in a dangerous town, and we hear sirens wail through the night and day – and oh, how it breaks my heart to know the poverty traps that lie just a few blocks north of here.
But sometimes I think it is necessary for us to lean into death, to push back against it – to fight it with everything we have and remember it because it will not win in the end. My tendency has always been – and certainly over the last 2 days – to turn the tv off, to fall asleep to Sportscenter and let it drown out my fears, to not click on the links and read the stories and feel, even on the smallest scale, the infinite pain of my neighbor. It’s much easier to pretend it all doesn’t exist, but it does – and I’m truly not doing myself or anyone else any favors by pretending violence and terror and death are not the reality.
And so in the spirit of this season, of a stable overshadowed by a Cross (as Ross Douthat said so eloquently today), I have to cling to the promise of Death Defeated, of a Sunday morning that is coming where there will be no more tears – and that promise is made all the more glorious in light of our perpetual Advent, our heartbreaking Friday, and the thousands of other tiny deaths that we see and feel each day.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)