“Death forces us to think, prods us to become wise, as nothing else does.”
For some people standing in line at a funeral parlor is one of the most uncomfortable, awkward, and nerve-wracking things one can experience. Many individuals become anxious looking for the perfect thing to say to the grieving family. However you try to look at the scenario, it seems that all the words in the world can not fill the hole in their hearts. Those of us who possess some form of faith will comfort ourselves and loved ones with the knowledge that death is not the end but only the beginning of a new life with God. Yet, even such optimistic reassurances can not completely stifle the pain we feel or keep our eyes dry. And it is rightly so that it doesn't.
Death merits a response; not a response of indifference but a response of sorrow and acceptance. C.S. Lewis re-edifies grief as being an experience which even the greatest stoic can not evade. Concerning his own experience of his wife’s death Lewis writes,
“I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should no where find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?” (A Grief Observed, p. 16)
Lewis was a man of reason, reason enlightened by his faith. He recognized the importance of grief and its blessed grip on us which awakens our emotions, our affectivity, our sentimentality. Lewis rejected the lofty man’s view that ‘death does not matter’ and reminded us that our feelings grant us a glimpse of that which is the core of our being: our heart.
The proper attitude toward death is twofold. We have a right to grieve as we do a right to hope. Death is tragic. For some it can be explained as the result of the Fall, for all it is nature’s unconquerable power over us. Even as a Christian, who has faith in eternal life, I find myself unable to fully rejoice at the passing of a loved one.
Was it not Christ who wept at Lazareth’s grave although He was fully aware that Lazareth would rise? Likewise, Christ sweated blood at the garden of Gethsemane asking if it be possible that “this cup be taken away”.
C.S. Lewis clearly explains the ambivalent Christian view of death: “It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon; it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which he conquered” (Miracles, p. 125).
Our sorrow over death should not be feared, for it is the opposite of despair. We grieve because we are loving creatures who possess the unique capability to deeply mourn the loss of our fellow man. There is no room for despair. Our sorrow is evidence enough that we once knew someone worth loving, someone worth grieving for...and we are blessed to have known such a person.
“We are human beings...flesh, feelings, sensitivity. We feel, we love, we live in the flesh. Our loved ones are like a song. A song which has become one of your favorite songs, a song instilled in your loved ones’ being. We loved to hear it played. We loved the tune that resonated in our earthly flesh. When someone dies we deal with the resonating thought that the sound will not be played again. The song in our heart can no longer be heard but only remembered. It is not that we do not understand the purpose or the reason for their passing, it is only that as human persons we fully appreciated them as a gift, as only loved ones can, and the loss of that gift as only human flesh and thought and feeling can.”
Ultimately, I have counted myself fortunate that the tears which fall from my eyes are not cried in vain. Death has merited its response from me. My sorrow is not only a response but rather a gift from my heart to the person whom I shall no longer see again in this earthly lifetime.
This blog is dedicated to my Uncle Tim who recently passed. 6/22/14
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Sources: Pages 98-101. Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings