Dealing with Death

Gary, Frankly Speaking,
My first notable experience with death came two weeks before my second birthday. My maternal grandfather passed away on Good Friday and was buried on Easter Sunday. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind lies an image of my visit to the funeral home in Colorado City to view his body. As he lay there in the casket, what I remember most is the picture of Jesus hanging on the wall behind him. I didn’t understand death, but I understood Jesus.

Dealing with death is the most universal of human experiences. No matter how long we live, we must all deal with the reality of our own death. But we must also deal with the reality of the deaths of those around us—whether it be a grandparent, a best friend, or the murder victim in the next city. We are surrounded by death, and psychologically we must disassociate ourselves from the persistent onslaught of death or we would go crazy. Can you imagine reading the daily obituaries and feeling the sense of loss that every family feels? It would be overwhelming.

I learned that lesson while working in a funeral home while in college. I have always had a tender heart, so watching grieving families deal with death touched me deeply. I learned that if I were to survive the day-to-day procession of the bereaved I would have to emotionally detach from their pain in order to serve them. I did not care less for them. I simply cared for them by caring for them.

When I became a minister a year later, I found my experience in the funeral home helpful in guiding families through the process of funeral preparation. What became hard was the actual funeral message—talking about someone I had known so personally. There’s where the counsel of my father/mentor became most valuable. He simply said, “Son, you have to be professional.” In other words, to perform the job the family needed me to do, I had to maintain my composure, so they could grieve.

Even now, my Dad’s words ring as true as ever. That’s not to say I don’t feel the grief. One of the hardest funerals I have ever preached was for a parts store owner with whom I drank coffee every day for nine years. Yet what I remember is that the family’s need to grieve surpasses my need to display emotion.

Last week was a week where Corey’s death touched so many. At a staff meeting this week, I learned of another young parent in Texas who succumbed to cancer. And I am reminded once again that dealing with death is the universal human experience. That’s why Jesus’ death is of the greatest importance. Because in Jesus’ death, death was conquered. As Paul put it:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, New International Version)

As we continue to mourn our loss, I pray these verses will comfort and encourage us.