There's no way to sugar coat that, no word that describes it more adequately, no way around it. Death just sucks. It stinks. It bites.
And when you work in ministry it seems to suck/stink/bite even more because we're given such a big platform on which to love people. We get to know them. We worship with them. We dine with them. We care deeply about them.
We know. We know the believer is in a better place. We know that they closed their eyes on a disgusting, dirty, perverse world and opened them in glory. For them, death is the first moment of eternity with the Lord. So, for them, death is unending joy. They close their ears to sadness and pain and reopen them to the angels singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come."
But for those of us still here, death sucks.
Our friend, Eddie, went to be with the Lord today. Never again will I turn around during worship and see him standing behind me plucking his bass guitar. Never will I see his bright smile zooming toward me in his wheelchair. Never will I watch as he wheels my children around the sanctuary. Never will I feel the rough edges of his mustache as he presses his cheek to mine on a Sunday morning.
My son fell in love with Eddie the moment we moved here. Eddie had lost his legs in an accident so even back then he wasn't a whole lot taller than my toddler. This intrigued Garrett and they became fast friends. Every Sunday my son would beg Eddie to zoom him around. Eddie would wrap an arm around Garrett's torso and, with his other arm, fly as fast as he could around in circles or up and down the hallway. My son's laugh could be heard throughout the building. Only within the last year has Garrett gotten a little too big to ride with Eddie--but he still tried, balancing on the edge of the seat, his giggling matching Eddie's deep chuckle measure for measure. Garrett thought it was so funny when we told him that, from the back, it looked like Eddie had a pair of new, wispy, little boy legs hanging off the front of his wheelchair.
We went to see Eddie in the hospital on Monday and we took Garrett. I wasn't sure if we were making the right decision but when I'd tried explaining that Eddie was probably going to meet Jesus soon, Garrett had replied with, "I need to get up to the hospital to see him." It sounds like he's been listening to our end of a lot of phone conversations. I know that Garrett is five and I don't want to put the weight of the world on his shoulders but I also don't want to tell him that because he is five--because is young, little, small--he can't say goodbye to his friend.
Troy and the boys were a few minutes behind me and Eddie was asleep when I got there. I walked in, took his hand, and said, "Hey, Buddy." He opened his eyes, smiled, and fell back asleep. But when my son got there, oh, the blessed sweetness of that moment.
I lifted Garrett up and he whispered, "Hi."
Eddie rolled his head to the side, opened his eyes, took a deep breath, chuckled and said, "Hi, Garrett!"
This morning I asked Garrett if he knew that Mr. Eddie probably had an appointment with heaven today. He nodded and then said, "And when Mr. Eddie gets there he's going to say, 'I'm home!'" I smiled.
"Is that what he's going to say?"
"Well," Garrett replied, "I don't know for sure what Mr. Eddie is going to say when he gets to heaven but when I get there I'm gonna walk in and say, 'I'm glad to be home!'"
There are moments when it becomes abundantly clear to me that I am the child in our relationship. So often he reminds me that we're just passing through. That this is not our permanent residence.
I had the job of telling him, just a little while later, that Eddie was with Jesus. I expected a flood of tears. Gone are his days of riding around the church with his buddy. Gone are his days of standing next to him and plucking a string on Eddie's guitar. For me, the images of Eddie are causing chest constrictions that can only be relieved by a bubbling of tears. But my son looked at me and said, "Okay. I'll get to see him in heaven. And now he has a new body so he has new legs! And that, Mom, is pretty cool."
Death sucks. For the living.
But my friend is walking around on a brand new set of legs. And that is pretty cool. Who knows, maybe they are a pair of wispy little boy legs. Maybe they look a lot like the pair that used to hang off the front of his wheelchair.
Rest in the peace of our Savior, dear friend. We'll see you when we get there.