Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Passings

I just got back from a memorial service. A long-time staff member recently passed away after a long struggle with cancer, leaving a husband and an eight-year-old daughter. The impact she has left upon the seminary was very evident not only in the moving testimonials and reflections shared by friends and co-workers, but by the sheer number of people that came to fill the auditorium in which the memorial was held.

While I was not especially close to my departed colleague, I did get to know her over several encounters over the past 8 years in which I've been connected to the seminary. She was hard person to get to know. Extremely caring once you've gotten to know her, she could come off as very hard-edged on a first meeting. This was because she was extremely passionate about seeking God's will for the world in which she found herself. But she found something to like about absolutely everyone. Even the most unlovable in our world. And the things she fought for, she fought for because she felt God calling her to make the world a better place for everyone. Not just for those already in the "club" of Christianity. People would know the nature of God through her because the would feel God's love through her. Not God's condemnation. She was, in many ways, a better person than I am, and she will be missed.

Occasions like this always cause me to reflect on other people I've known who have passed away. A close friend of mine died of an aneurysm during my second year of college, a year I often describe as "the year from Hell." I'm sure I'll share more about that time later. For now, it's simply worth mentioning that, while looking around the auditorium at today's memorial service, I remembered looking around the college chapel at all the friends and family that had come for my friend's memorial more than a decade ago. One learns how to deal with such losses, but one never forgets.

Another thing that I was given cause to remember today was a worship service I helped plan for a friend who's mother passed away several years ago. She noted that, in our society, we tend to offer comfort and sympathy to those who grieve in the days and weeks immediately following the loss, but that we often forget that the grieving process continues for a long time after that. Anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, and similar occasions often serve as cause to open up old pains during the grieving process, and all too often, the person grieving has to go through these times alone. The worship service we put together at the time was designed to give our community a chance to reflect and grieve for those who had passed away at any indeterminite time in the past. To come together and offer comfort to those who are still grieving, as we all continue to do for those we've lost, no matter how long ago the loss occurred. I wish more churches and Christian communities would plan such services.

By an odd coincidence, today's memorial service fell upon the day of a much happier occasion: my 2nd wedding anniversary. While watching the reflections at the memorial service, which often displayed the love my colleague had for her husband and her daughter, I was given yet another occasion to mark my anniversary today with thankfulness for the relationship I have with my wife, and gratitude for the time we continue to get to spend together.

Apparently a favorite saying of my colleague was "all life is gravy." What a wonderful reflection to have, not only for a memorial service, but for a wedding anniversary. I am blessed to have every day of my life, and I am especially grateful to have a wonderful partner to share it with. It is good to mark these "passings" in our lives, if only to remind us of how richly God has blessed us.

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