Mourn the strangeness of death

Death is strange. We all know death is coming—the saying I’ve long heard goes along the lines of “nothing is certain but death and taxes”—that should make it normal, right? But it’s not.
Even death that is “expected” ends in grief. But death that is unexpected? It’s altogether jarring. It rearranges and catapults us face-first into the deep. Why? Because it’s strange. It doesn’t fit what we know to be good.
The first time I KNEW death was real, I was 15. You might have been younger or older, but eventually we all know its sting. While it’s real, I don’t want to grow accustomed to it. I don’t want to become calloused toward it, to where it doesn’t affect me. Instead, I want to hate it.
I know that’s going to sound like strong language to some. But it’s the truth. While it is a normal part of life, that doesn’t mean I have to normalize it. The Bible—which is where I find my center—unequivocally says that Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. I know that, as a believer, I’m called to number my days. I do. This is very real to me. I know I don’t have to fear death, because it’s not the end. I’m so thankful for this hope that springs Eternal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see and feel the fractures every time someone I love is gone.
Over the course of a couple weeks in January, death came for two special people: my grandpa, Dean White, and my friend, Lola Unruh.
Grandpa Dean was a radio operator for the U.S. Navy in World War II. He came home, married my Grandma Emma and set to work farming. He loved John Deere…everything…tractors, combines, grain carts, Gators and mowers. Green was a requirement. He brought his farming love inside, too, filling shelves in his office with model-sized John Deere equipment.
In his younger years, he was an avid drummer, playing with a band while peers danced the night away. As he aged, he focused on his harmonica, continuing to jam with residents at his retirement home and playing “Happy Birthday” for his family. He loved the Tescott Lion’s Club. I remember attending club pancake feeds at the Tescott gym, Grandpa wearing an apron and flipping pancakes. Once, while staying at their house, I asked Grandpa to make me pancakes. Looking back, he was probably shocked someone would ask him to cook. He indulged me, though.
It’s sad, the arrival of the time I no longer have living grandparents.
And Lola. How I loved her. The week before her death, we ran into each other at Dale’s and spent some time catching up. We were making plans for “after COVID” to all get together for a meal. I’m so thankful I went to the store that day instead of the next. Before parting, she told me to tell my kids hello and give them a hug from her. I knew she meant it. Lola loved my kids and treated them like her own grandchildren. She didn’t look past them, moving on to someone more important. She truly SAW them. She knew them well enough to know when one of them was having an off day, and she cared. We’ll miss her terribly.
With these fractures, there’s a scripture passage I’ve been thinking about: “Death, where is your victory, where is your sting?” I wonder how often we use these well-known words to bypass grief? But as I looked it up, that’s not the context the Apostle Paul uses the words in 1 Corinthians.
Paul writes as one living between the Advents, addressing others living between the Advents—to us as we live between Jesus’s coming and His return.
He writes: “I tell you this, brothers and sisters: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15: 50-58)
“Then shall come to pass.” There are still things that must happen before we no longer feel death’s sting. As believers, we live with this hope—this anticipation—that Jesus Christ will return. But in the here and now, let us not miss that death still carries a sting. It still hurts. It still fractures. Let us remember it is, in fact, our enemy. And while Christ will crush it under His feet, we still wait, mourning with those who mourn.

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