Life through death

Published 10:26 am Monday, May 15, 2017

by Nathan Decker

“Death is the solution to all problems.”

– Joseph Stalin.

It’s been less than a week since I’ve been to a funeral. Eight years ago my last grandparent died. Thirteen years ago my grandpa died; 26 years ago my grandma died. I’ve lost uncles, aunts, classmates, friends, dogs, cats, hamsters, a mouse and several goldfish. Each death has been a two-sided coin offering a gift and burden.

The burden constant is loss and grief. Like a stone placed on my shoulders, I’ve carried the grief with me and the loss never gets any smaller. I’ve learned to handle it, balance it, manage it and sometimes even channel it. Time does not heal the loss of a loved one. There is always an empty chair, a missing laugh around the Thanksgiving table, a moment when I want to pick up the phone and call. I have been known to wrap myself in the quilt my grandma made and weep — still missing the old wrinkled wit of the wisest woman I’ve ever known.

On the other side of the coin, the gift is relief and release. I am relieved that my grandmother is no longer gasping for life-giving breath. I am thankful my grandpa has been released from the prison his recliner became during his last days. As much as I hate to admit it, death is a natural part of life’s journey and the Christian faith. Even when my friend, Dusty Whitten, in seventh grade died in a horrific car collision — I see relief and release. Death is the bridge from life to resurrection.

In the Easter story (yes, it still is Easter season) we see death kneel down before Christ. Through Christ’s life, death and resurrection: death offers passage to peace. Our experience of grief is God’s gift to enable us to process the pain of loss and love.

Those who do not grieve deeply have never loved so deep. Relationships are God’s best blessing and curse to us all. By loving, we make ourselves vulnerable to loss. Jesus understood this as he wept for Lazarus and offered the words of comfort and promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.” –John 11:25.

In 1995, 340 geese took shelter in what they thought was a lake near Butte, Montana. The residents there call the body of water the Pit. It is the leftover hole from a copper mine. The pyrite in the rocks mixes with the rainwater creating sulfuric acid. The acid releases from the ground toxic levels of copper, arsenic, lea and gold.

What is left is a lake filled with colorful waters in hues of reds, yellows and blues. Needless to say, the 340 geese were found the next morning dead in the water. What could possibly live in such toxic waters? Two decades later, scientists found something living in the water. A bacteria that was absorbing the metals at unearthly levels. A bacteria that is only found naturally within the intestines of geese. There is life through death.

I will carry with me the losses I have encountered in this journey. They are not toxic. They are burdens that are blessings. I will laugh and cry through each cherished memory. I wouldn’t trade any of the funerals I’ve been to for a life without grief. Through faith, I look toward a hope-filled reunion across the Jordan. Through Christ, I am given the comfort of knowing that death is not the end. Through the Easter story, I am given a promise that death serves the Resurrected One. Death is no longer the problem, but a part of salvation’s solution.

As a pastor and fellow pilgrim through this life, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of death. Even more than that, I admonish you to talk with your loved one’s regarding your own death. Let folks know what you want done for your funeral, burial and service. Pick more than just your plot — choose songs, Scriptures, readings, etc.

When we pass, our families have enough burdens. Let’s give them the gift of being able to grieve without messy details and unanswered questions. If you need help, get your pastor, funeral director, or even me to help out with the conversation. I think you’ll agree it’s what Jesus would do.

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.