Today is All Saints Day. The day after many people dressed up as ghosts, goblins, visited haunted houses, and the like, comes a day when the church reminds us that death is real, but we do not have to fear it.
While death saddens us, we do not have to be frightened by it or consumed by it. While most of us want to put death off as long as we can, when our time comes, hopefully we can embrace it as a part of life and see it as a transition point into another existence. So, on All Saints Day, we pause to remember those who have traversed the great divide into the place that the Lord Jesus has prepared for us.
Such remembering comes with its share of joy but also comes with a good measure of grief which ebbs and flows like a tide. Unlike the oceanic tides, which are usually predictable, we never know when the high tide of grief will come. It can wash over us unexpectedly. It might come when standing in line at the supermarket and we catch a smell of perfume from someone in front of us that smells like the fragrance mom used to wear; or we see someone driving the kind of truck dad used to drive; or we hear someone use a phrase like our son used to use or we might struggle with dispensing of the clothes or other items that used to belong to our spouse. For a moment, we are carried back. It’s a sweet memory, but sad at the same time.
The passing of time helps but time never completely takes grief away. Thankfully, the rawness leaves, but grief never completely goes away for most people. It is like a grave. It is there for us to revisit. Some people revisit more than others. Everyone’s experience is different.
Chris is a friend of mine from Moultrie, GA. A car struck Chris many years ago during a youth trip when Chris was in his late teens. Ever since he has been unable to live alone, so Chris lived with his mother, a delightful woman, up until her death four years ago.
Chris recently posted these words on his Facebook page. “I can’t give flowers to her because she’s dead but I can go to the cemetery and tell her I love her all over again. When it’s Dad’s turn I’ll tell him the same thing. My mother used to say ‘We lost Rupert a long time before he actually died.’ I think both of them would be very proud of me anyway. I love everybody and they all love me right back. My dad died in 1997. A little past New Years Day around 2:00 A.M.”
Can’t you feel Chris’ love and his grief? You can also hear that he’s trying to move on with his life. He states these things in very simple, yet direct words, what grief is about.
Not long ago, a 73-year-old friend of mine shared with me a story about the death of his father who died about 15 years ago. Even though his father lived to be an old man by most standards, he still grieves his father’s death, most especially in the spring when the plum bushes bloom.
For all of you who have had a loved one or friend die this year, and for those of you who are remembering others on All Saints Day from years gone by, I share with you this poem I recently wrote about the conversation between Jap Keith and his dad before he died and how it continues to be a part of the tapes of grief that play in his heart each year.
When the Plum Bushes Bloom
Every year when the trees sprout green,
And the robins return and begin to sing,
I look for the blossoms that appear on the
Plum bushes growing beside the road.
You see, they were blooming that day
As Daddy and I made our way
From Hogansville to LaGrange to see
His doctor for the very last time.
“It looks like the sap’s about to rise,” I said.
But my daddy was thinking about his deathbed.
“So is the sap out of my big toe,” he replied.
“Getting closer, is it?” as I acknowledged his thoughts.
“Yep, afraid so,” he said.
With no denial about the time on his clock
He said, “I want to die at home, Doc.”
Looking at me, the doctor asked if we’d talked about this,
And I said, “No, but it sounds like we are about to.”
There wasn’t much said and Daddy didn’t complain,
He just asked the doctor if he could help with the pain.
When the doctor said “yes,” Daddy said,
“My son and I can handle the rest,” and we did.
That’s been more than two decades ago.
I mention it because there’s something I want you to know
About grief and what it’s like to lose someone you love.
Grieving isn’t about getting over the one you lose.
It is about how you choose
To find new ways to be
I’m reminded of that every year that the saps about to rise
And the plum bushes bloom and then I realize
That the tears still come, but they don’t linger,
Because I continue to find
New ways to be connected to the Spirit of God.
Now may God help you connect to him in fresh and new ways on this All Saints Day.