Today the number of deaths recorded as a consequence of Covid-19 has reached 8,958 whilst the global death toll has passed 100,000. Personally, I find these numbers hard to fathom, but the truth is that behind every number is a person, a life lost, and countless left behind to grieve. To paraphrase Matt Hancock from today’s daily briefing: behind each death is a name, a loss, and a family that will never be the same again. The presence of death in this world is become harder and harder to ignore, and for some it’s reality is painfully, excruciatingly near.
My experiences of grief are not fresh, and therefore I cannot understand the depth of the pain of those who are facing grief right now. But if the hope that I share can offer any small fraction of hope to anyone facing or scared to face grief then I will count this blog post worthwhile. I began writing this post a year ago when I was actively grieving, but I couldn’t put my words together or find the motivation to keep writing. It is the grief of others this year that has led me to try and point to little fragment of comfort that can be found in the face of death.
Last Easter my church family collectively grieved the sudden loss of two very dear friends. And just over ten years before that I lost one of my closest friends. In both cases I was shocked and devestated. At eleven years old I had to come to terms with the fact that a friend I had known and loved throughout primary school had been taken to hospital in a sudden emergency and had entered a coma. A few days later I went into school and was told by another pupil that she had died. I didn’t believer her, and spent the next several hours in complete denial, until a school assembly forced to me to process that what I had been told that morning was true. Just under a year ago I recieved a phone call from a church leader who told me he was in the area and asked if he could come round to talk about something. I naturally wondered what this was all about, but nothing in me considered that tragedy had struck. I heard when he told me that my friends had died, but I couldn’t take it in. It couldn’t be true.
It is hard to express that feeling, that absolute disbelief that what you are hearing is real. But in, the final book of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling describes it well. If you haven’t read it yet, look away, but, taking the name of the character out, this picture helps to give an understanding of what facing death feels like:
And in that fragment of a moment, when danger seemed, temporarily, at bay, the world was rent apart… he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind that neither flame nor curse could cause, and he stood up, swaying, more frightened than he had been that day, more frightened, perhaps than he had been in his life… The world had ended, so why had the battle not ceased… Harry’s mind was in freefall, spinning out of control, unable to grasp the impossibility, because ______ could not be dead.
Whether a death is expected or comes with no warning at all, the blow with which it hits us is earth-shattering, our world as we know it ends, and we are forced to face a new reality.
And as so many are faced with the crushing power of grief, and are unable to gather with loved ones in the midst of the lockdown, perhaps we need to grow in our understanding of grief, and of how to be there for and support those in the midst of it.
Grief is right…
Losing someone we love hurts immensely. Knowing that their life has ended is devastating. Grief in the face of death is right. And it can come in many forms.
We might find ourselves in despair, calling out to God, or not knowing how to. We might feel numb, as though our emotions, not knowing what to do, have freaked out and stopped all together. We might feel happy, and then feel guilty about feeling happy. We might feel angry. We might feel more broken than we think we deserve, guilty that others are looking out for us in our pain when there are others whose pain must be far greater. We might be tempted to drown away the pain or seek refuge in escapism and habits that we know aren’t helpful. Our response is individual and yet we are not alone as we come to terms with death in ways that we may not have expected. It is a process that we must go through in order to heal.
Grief is right.
…because death is wrong
Death threatens to destroy everything, it tears families apart, destroys live, renders our achievements meaningless. In her book Grief Works, Julia Samuel describes how:
The essence of grief is that we are forced, through death, to confront a reality we inherently reject.
The pain that we experience in the face of another’s death points to the truly terrible nature of death, and the inherent rejection of its reality points to the fact that it was not supposed to be this way.
But, as a Christian, I believe that the Bible provides an explanation for this. When God created the world, death didn’t exist, mankind was made to be with him eternally. But when humanity rebelled against God, sin entered the world, the world became broken, and death became the consequence. In a piece of spoken word I heard today, the writer put it well: ‘we turned from light and life.’
But death has been overcome
According to the Bible, Death has entered the world and all of us must face it. But we are not left without help. God has intervened to bring us back to himself. He sent his own Son into the world, who lived amongst us, suffered alongside us and grieved with us. And even more, he came into the world to take the punishment we deserve for turning away from our one true king. On Good Friday he went to the cross, facing rejection, torture, humiliation and betrayal. He was abandoned by God so that in turn we could be restored to him, that we could receive eternal life with him.
When Jesus came into the world he didn’t just live amongst us, nor did he just die. He rose again. He overcome the grave. As put in the song ‘Creator God’, ‘death could not hold the one who authored life.
As we look forward to Easter Sunday we can look to the hope of life that this day brings. There is hope in the face of death because there is one who has overcome it. There is one who has conquered death.
As we trust in Christ we have the certainty that we will know eternal life with him. As I grieved the loss of two friends last year, I knew that there was cause to rejoice. They trusted in Christ, and now they are in glory with him. 1 Corinthians 15:54, a verse in the Bible reads as follows:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.