People wrote us from all over the world. There were cards, emails, Facebook posts, actual letters, phone calls, and people showed up too. One friend flew in all the way from Waco, and left immediately after the service. All told, it appears we had upwards of 600-700 attempts at communication of solace and love. More than anything we appreciated the love that was behind all of this, and of course the prayers, though, since I don’t believe prayers for the dead accomplish much, I was glad that people concentrated on prayers for our living loved ones. Sometimes people forget the finality of death, and they also forget that funerals as well may honor the dead, but they are intended mainly to help the living.
Here is but one sample of an expression that came from Durham, England itself, where Christy was born (and I am sure she was tickled that someone from Durham Cathedral also wrote and was praying).
“Dr Witherington I was deeply saddened to hear of your loss. Our church here in your daughter’s birth place is praying for you and your wife, family and daughter’s friends that you may truly experience God as the God of Compassion. James Petticrew Beeson BP2005 Mosaic Edinburgh Church of the Nazarene.”
Other people shared happy memories, like my friend the Right Rev. Chappell Temple who wrote from Houston — “Angie (his daughter) has shared with me the sad news about the death of your daughter, and Julie (his wife) and I wanted you to know that we are praying for you and your family during this time. I well remember Christy being with you when you came here for our bible conference and what a delightful young woman she was. Her passing is no doubt a terrible blow and perhaps every parent’s worst nightmare. I am hopeful you will find an extra measure of God’s grace for these days ahead, brother, and if there is anything we can do from our end, you have only to let us know.”
I could go on and on sharing such things. Some people wrote to say ‘there are no words’ but of course if that were really true they wouldn’t have written at all. That’s kind of like saying ‘Is this a question?’ They were trying hard to express how unfathomable it seems that a young life could disappear in a moment. And this side of the equation needs some probing.
Why, in a world full of mayhem, disasters, and death in every city (spent much time in hospitals lately?) are people so shocked by death? I can think of a reason — because God has placed in our hearts the expectation that life will go on, despite all the contrary evidence. God has placed eternity in our hearts.You might think that we expect to live forever more as a young person, but then I’ve known a lot of sick young people who died young, and healthy young people who were tragically killed in car accidents, etc. Why is our mortality such a big surprise? Are the young any less mortal than the old? Of course not. Are they any less vulnerable? In most ways, not really. Ask the grief-stricken parents whose daughters and sons have been killed in car accidents recently because they were insanely texting while driving.
Mortality is everywhere, and the grim reaper roams the land. So I reiterate — one reason we are so shocked by death is because God has placed in us the love for life, the desire to go on living, the longing for a better life, and the sweetness and joy of living that accounts in some measure for our shock when someone seems to die prematurely or suddenly or young. We even have a cliché, “Life goes on.”
But frankly, there is no amount of words that can help us cope adequately with a life that was deeply loved and suddenly disappears. But all of this raises the issue about our “great expectations,” which must be differentiated from our sense of entitlement, which we will talk about in the next post. Before we do, a final thought.
One thing I have noticed about deep but good grief is that any little thing can trigger it. When I see a party hat my Christy gave me for my 60th birthday, I start crying. When I walk by her room and see the glitter stars on the ceiling glowing at night, I cry. When I see her picture, any picture, I cry. And its okay. Men need to let themselves grieve just as much as women do.
Something is wrong, terribly and profoundly wrong, if you have no capacity to mourn the passing of someone you loved with all your heart. In other words, it takes a strong person to weep and not be afraid to show your mortality and vulnerability. Our macho culture doesn’t get it. There may be “no crying in baseball,” but there ought to be in life. You need to let yourself grieve. Among other things it makes you more humane and compassionate with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune others experience.
So, if you see me and I am a bit teary, it’s okay. God is helping me appreciate the depths of what I miss — my Christy.