When I die, I hope people cry for me.
I know you’re not supposed to say that. I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to a funeral or memorial service where someone didn’t say, “So and so doesn’t want you to cry for them.” Or “We should be rejoicing today instead of mourning.”
And it’s kind of silly, because I also don’t know if I’ve ever attended a funeral or memorial service where no one cried.
We are not good at grief. And I think Christians are kind of the worst at it.
Because most Christians believe in some kind of after-life, there is a strong tendency to simply look at this life – this wild, gorgeous, messy, intricate life – as a kind of gas station stop. Compared to eternity, what is 80 years? A drip, a molecule, an atom. So no grief necessary, we have eternity.
I understand that. The promise of heaven is a comfort in times of sadness.
But I don’t want it to eliminate sadness, and that seems far too often to be the goal. We don’t have a right to be sad because Heaven. We don’t have a right to grieve because Eternity. We’ve taken the promise that there will be no more tears and no more pain and applied it to today, all the while ignoring passages telling us to weep with those who weep or that there are seasons for mourning.
I believe that speaking about mourning as a shameful activity has larger implications. Our inability to allow for grief cuts off our ability to connect intimately.
My grief is most poignant when it is for those with whom I am connected most deeply. The closer the relationship, the more deeply I will feel the loss, whether through death or some other circumstance that separates us.
When we don’t allow space for grief, we inhibit closeness. We all know that there is no way to really avoid sadness due to loss, but we also know that we can lessen that sadness if we never get too close. Jesus’s prayer for oneness becomes a kind of academic religious command, but not something that we’re quite willing to experience. We know that it’s right, but we don’t know if it’s really right for us.
Here is what I know. Intimacy is worth it.
If you want to be able to fully celebrate someone’s life when they are gone, you have to be invested in that life. You dig in with both hands and love, love, love them. You eat good food with them, and make inside jokes with them, and play pranks on them. And sometimes you fight and you hurt each other, but then you cry and apologize and make things right again. You give generously and you receive generosity.
It will be intensely painful because when you’re one with someone, their pain is multiplied in you.
It will be intensely joyful because when you’re one with someone, their joy is multiplied in you.
So when I’m gone, you have permission to grieve for me. And I hope it’s because while I’m here, I’ve given you permission to be one with me.