Over the last week, our nation and the world became a little less dignified. A little less civil. A little less honorable. A little less humble. A little less colorful. Well . . . it just became a little less. Our former president, George H. W. Bush (a/k/a “Bush 41″), has “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (borrowing the eloquent words of another former president) After ninety-four full years, Bush 41 joined his beloved, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who passed at age three nearly sixty-five years ago.
Even though the Bush family is obviously saddened by their loss, it is so evident that they are also celebrating a long life, well-lived. As well, they should. President Bush’s life was filled with humility, humor, service, love, and so much more.
Celebrating life is so much easier when someone passes away just shy of a century. You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve even said it –He lived a good life. And by “good life,” we are really recognizing that the person lived long enough to fulfill earthly dreams associated with obtaining education, building a career, establishing a career, starting a family, and gaining the wisdom of years.
Don’t get me wrong – we feel the loss of our elderly loved ones deeply. And, we should be careful with our platitudes about a “good, long life” when the elderly pass so as not to minimize the loss. But, if we are being honest, the news of the passing of a beloved parent, grandparent, or friend who is “up in years” doesn’t hit us the same way as the demise of the young. A prayer request for an infant with an insurmountable disease crosses our social media feed – I can’t imagine. We learn of a young mom or dad who succumbs to an undetected medical condition – Why? A young teen’s life is whisked away by a reckless driver – How senseless. We collectively cry, “what a shame.”
Why the different responses? As a believer, I am convinced that President Bush and Brooke Posey landed in the same place. I fully believe that both are basking in eternal glory – a glory that is beyond our imaginations. If we could fully wrap our heads around the glory that awaits, our responses to “early death” and “late death” would be turned on its head. We’d lament the death of a person who lived a “good, long life” for the added time packed into this leg of the eternal journey, and we would rejoice the life whisked quickly out of this world’s wickedness.
There is a passage in the Book of Wisdom, that elucidates this concept. My Protestant friends don’t have this book in their canon, and my Catholic friends likely aren’t familiar with it, so let me share:
But the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest.
For the age that is honorable
comes not with the passing of time,
nor can it be measured in terms of years.
Rather, understanding is the hoary [grayish, white] crown for men,
and an unsullied life, the attainment of old age.
He who pleased God was loved;
he who lived among sinners was transported–
Snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind
or deceit beguile his soul;
For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right
and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.
Having become perfect in a short while,
he reached the fullness of a long career;
for his soul was pleasing to the Lord,
therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.
But the people saw and did not understand,
nor did they take this into account.
Because grace and mercy are with God’s holy ones,
and God’s care is with the elect.
In October 1996, I stood on an alter and read that passage in honor of my 20-year-old step-brother, who had been murdered in cold blood. Six months later, I whispered them again in honor of my 27-year-old brother, whose life was stolen by a genetic blood disorder. The passage lay dormant in my Bible until March 2017 when our (Lutheran) pastor read those words in honor of Brooke – taken by a reckless driver at age 17.
But – we don’t rejoice at an early death, do we? Even if we accept fully that some “become perfect in a short while” and that we are “sped out of the midst of wickedness” the moment we leave this earth – we still lament the early death differently. Why? Well – it’s not them, it’s us.
For those taken too soon – we grieve not only what we had but what we will never have. When the elderly pass, we’ve had a lifetime to make memories. When the young die, time is frozen. For those who are “forever 8, 10, 17, or 20,” we will never know “9, 11, 18 or 21.” We’ll never know first dances, graduations, weddings, and children.
When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. – African Proverb
How do we bide our time between this frozen moment and the eternal glory that awaits?
We must mourn. Grief is what we feel internally for a loss. Mourning is our outward expression of that grief. No matter the age of our loved ones who’ve gone too soon, we must acknowledge the overabundance of symptoms (emotional and physical) that come with grief. Then, we need to let it out. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be bad about keeping it in. We don’t want to burden others. We don’t want to appear weak. The truth is that there is nothing burdensome or weak about sharing the love that we still feel.
There are many ways to mourn – none right or wrong per se. Over the past twenty months, I’ve come to realize that mourning with a positive bent is better – at least for me. How do you mourn with a “positive bent?” In the words of Irvin Berlin, “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on …” The melody lingers and mourning turns positive when we memorialize the life loss.
I did a little research to find some ways to “memorialize” a loved one, and I was surprised to find that our family and friends have done many of these – start a charity or scholarship; plant a tree; make a quilt; engage in activities the loved one enjoyed; or take a trip. Another way is to light a candle in remembrance. In fact, this Sunday (December 9th) is “Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting” day sponsored by Compassionate Friends. At 7:00 p.m. in your time zone, everyone is encouraged to light a candle in memory of lost loved ones.
Nearly every list that I found included a really important way to commemorate another life – live.
It is so easy to stop living when someone we love dies. But it can’t be. There is not one person that is missing from my life – Brooke especially – who would want me to stop living. That’s probably your truth as well. Even if you had that unlikely person who might have said in life that they’d want you to put your own life on hold should they pass first, I’d bet they’ve changed their perspective in the blinding light of eternal glory.
Dear Father, in this season of celebrating the birth of your Son, Jesus, help us truly to “born” into our lives. By your Spirit breathe new life into our weary souls. Guide us into lives that not only reveal our love, honor, and glory for you, but extend the “lives” of those we’ve lost. We pray this through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Godspeed, Mr. President. Thank you for your service. We lost much more than a “library” with your passing. We lost just a little more.
Gone too soon . . .