I had to help do a hard thing the other day. My foster-father passed away recently and I went with my foster-mother to pick up his cremains at the funeral home.
It is always a difficult thing to do, not just because of the finality of it, but cremains are different from having a body in a casket. It is quite unceremonious the way they do it. Basically, a guy comes out with what looks like a gift-bag in which is a box akin to take-home Chinese food that contains your loved one.
I remember doing it with my father some years back and thinking, “That’s it? That’s all that’s left of him?”
It’s just really weird.
For my foster-mother, it was a difficult moment as you can imagine. And there are no words of comfort or peace I could give. The pain that comes is part of the grieving process that must run its course. It’s quite a helpless feeling as a man of God sitting on the sideline not being able to help, especially in this case given she lost her son to cancer not a year before.
But because of that moment, I want to write about death today. I want to talk about why we grieve so heavily when someone close to us passes, and why and how we can endure what seems unimaginable emotional pain that comes with losing a child, a spouse, or another loved one.
It felt as if my soul cracked when my own mother died when I was 20 years old. To this day it pains me to think about. But as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve wondered why it hurts so badly? I’ll see her again, I know, but it still hurts beyond hurt.
I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit or just my own reasoning that came to this, but here is what I’ve figured out. In the beginning when God made us, we were supposed to be together forever. There was no death, just perfection with one another and God in the Garden. That’s the way it is supposed to be and the way it will be again when Jesus comes and God creates the new heaven and the new earth!
But after the fall of man and creation, death came, stealing our loved ones away from us even if it is just for a short time. I believe our souls cry out for our loved ones because our souls know they are not supposed to be without them. Thus, we grieve. Even Jesus grieved when He heard of the death of Lazarus – knowing full well He was going to raise him from the dead!
So, we grieve “our loss.” But there is something vitally important we have to not just understand but embrace when we grieve and it’s this: Our loved one is not in the box, they’re not in the casket; they’re not in the grave; and they’re not in the columbarium.
No, our Christian loved one is with Jesus, alive and well, basking in His glory.
The only comment I could think of to make to my grieving foster-mother as she looked disbelievingly at that box of ashes was this: “You know he’s not there; he’s in heaven with Jesus.” I’ll be honest and say those words did not console her grief nor did I think they would. But they are words I felt compelled to say.
You see, when I die I really don’t want people to come “visit me” wherever my remains may be after I’m dead. I’m not going to be there! I’m going to be in heaven with the Lord!! I get visiting a grave in remembrance as a memorial to a person. But I see a lot of people going to a grave or columbarium thinking they are visiting the actual person. It may give solace, but that’s not where they are!
Paul tells us that to be out of the body is to be with Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Jesus on the cross cried out to God, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” and then passed. (Luke 23:46)
In the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, we see that Lazarus dies and is in Abraham’s bosom or paradise upon his death. (Luke 16:19-31)
Jesus told the thief on the cross that today he would be in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
There is more scripture but it all says the same thing: When we die in Christ we are with Him. Our last breath on this earth is our first breath in Heaven!
I hate funerals but I love celebrations of life! There is grieving at both, but there is laughter, good memories, fellowship, and encouragement during the celebrations because we not only celebrate a life lived on this earth but we celebrate a life now in heaven who will see again and be with for eternity!
I am grateful that my foster-father is a believer. I am grateful his wife and kids are, too, including my foster-brother who passed last year. While I miss them, I have a peace that comes from Jesus knowing these two things: One, they’re just fine – in fact, they are more than fine, they are perfect! Two, we will meet again and be together in perfection in the Lord forever.
I love the line, “Death, O where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Jesus overcame death and there is no more sting. While we grieve a loss as our souls cry out that this is not how it is to be, Jesus comforts us by reminding us that nothing can separate us from the Father’s love and that death is not an ending for us but just the doorway to eternity.
If you’re grieving a loved one, my prayer for you is that you know God’s love and peace. You believe the promises God has made through his Son, Jesus, that we will be together forever. And that you know that your loved one is living in perfection with the Lord and will be there when it’s your time to join them. May God bless and keep you!