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Archive for March, 2012

I will never forget standing on the wet ferry deck, huddled with family, watching my uncle take out my grandfather’s remains and scatter them into the sea.

I’d crossed these waters countless times growing up, but it didn’t matter. Red tulips — freshly cut, bursting with life – hit the water one by one. Their blood red blossoms drifted toward the ashes, intertwined for a moment in the waters neither one would ever leave. There was no sunshine, but the icy air didn’t even register: I felt numb.

My uncle broke the silence, “Our Father, who art in heaven… we’d decided to recite the Lord’s Prayer after the ashes… hallowed be your name… the rest of us tried to join … your Kingdom come, your will be done… my voice shaking… on earth as it is in heaven … tears flowing mixed with winter’s raindrops on my cheeks… give us this day our daily bread … the first horn blew and we froze, listening … and forgive us our trespasses… the maritime tradition of remembrance and honor for those laid to rest in the sea… as we forgive those who trespass against us … the long, deep and melancholy tone of the second horn echoed the feeling of my heartand lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil… my eyes glued to the water … for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever… and the ashes drifted further and further away with every breath… Amen.

I lost two grandparents, one from each side of the family, in two months.

My grandfather’s heart failed while being airlifted to the hospital. The day before his memorial, my grandmother’s doctors decided she wasn’t going to make it. They moved her into hospice and gave us little comfort on how long we had to say goodbye.  Hours, maybe days — maybe.

The reality of death’s curse set in as I watched that light-grey, powder fine ash settle on the water’s surface: By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19).

By God’s mercy, my grandmother did not die that day. After my grandfather’s memorial we left one town, and drove straight to the hospital in another. What prayers were answered that day as we talked with her, read to her, prayed with her, and said good-bye to her!! It was nearly a week later that her weary body breathed its last.

Different people. Different traditions. Different lives. Different deaths. But both  returned to dust.

.And so will we. I think part of the reason death is so difficult is that it’s hard to wrap our brains around because it brings us outside of the scientific, rational world and into the unknown.

… Could grandma feel her body slowly shutting down? Is grandpa in heaven?

I’ve been haunted by that question these past few weeks.  ..I went to work… I walked through a cemetery, reading the inscriptions on headstones and thinking about the kind of life I want to live… I took a blueberry-scented bubble bath and lit candles… I read CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” and thanked God I hadn’t lost a spouse… I watched snow flutter to the ground and drunk in its beauty and peacefulness… I made artisan bread for the first time, relishing the ability to make something with my hands… I read Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts” and started my own list of everyday blessings… I sat by the fire and let my mind wander, and I slept. A lot. These things have been a nourishing, helpful part of grieving for me…

But the question remained.

Friends, the sympathy cards and condolences are very kind, but they are not necessarily true. My grandmother may not be in a better place now. My grandfather may not be in the arms of the Lord.

The Bible says there is only one way to God and into his presence – heaven. It is through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Romans 10:9). There is no back-up plan, no second option. It doesn’t matter if you were a good person, smart, kind, generous, attractive, or wealthy. There’s only one factor: did they know the Lord? God alone knows that answer. Only he knows the condition of a heart, the thoughts of the mind, and the longings of the soul.

Someday, when my own ashes are scattered to the wind or to the waves, I hope that I will see both my grandparents again at the gates of heaven. The Book of Revelation paints a place of unimaginable beauty and splendor. It is without tears, pain, or darkness. Music and peace are abundant, and God himself is there. Friends, I don’t know about you, but that is definitely where I want to be!


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