Death. Seemingly, the inescapable common denominator of existence. Whether deemed an enemy or a friend, its result is evident–the end of life. Sometimes it is welcomed, the end of suffering and pain; sometimes shunned, cutting short what may have been a brilliant future, but we don’t get to choose. Every day, close to 300,000 of us don’t wake up; almost 300K, checking out of this hotel called life, walking through the revolving door with only the clothes on their backs, reaching the intersection of time and eternity.
Last night, at 8PM, grandpa Norte fell asleep for the last time in 94 years. When we arrived at the nursing home, his body was still warm. He looked as if he has just exhaled. The last time we had seen him was only a few days earlier. He was resting then too, but in such pain. The morphine was all that made his remaining moments on this earth bearable. His final look, last night, was one of rest and peace.
Death has been all too familiar for us. In May, it was Papa Norte, my wife’s father. Cancer. Long, slow, painful death. In August, it was Grandma Middleton. Cancer. Again. It’s a thread running through our lives. A story that repeats time and time again. This August, reminding me of an August, a decade ago, when my other grandmother departed. This cancer, reminding me of the following summer when my best friend breathed his last. A story, cycling over and over. We know this isn’t the end of his story. It is, as my father once said, a comma in this sentence; the exclamation point is coming.
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” –1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17
There is hope. This is not goodbye. This is not the end. We will meet again. And we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but we do mourn. Why do we mourn? Because no matter how certain we are of a final reunion in the clouds of glory, this does hurt. No matter if death is expected or unexpected, if the departed is saved or lost, there is definite immediate loss. When we are injured, whether it is a cut, or a burn, or something else, we cry out, not because there is no hope, not because the wound will never be healed; we cry because it hurts. Even so with death.
“I never cry. What’s the point?” I’ve said it to myself on many an occasion. In most cases it’s true. I usually find no reason to cry. I’ve told myself it’s better to live a principled life rather than an emotional life. It’s stable. It’s secure. Emotions are my enemy more often than not. I don’t cry. But standing there, with my wife on my right side and my grandmother’s casket on the left, singing our song–a song of hope–“Because He Lives,” I felt something. I looked into the eyes of those I love, eyes red and filled with tears. I closed my eyes to the scene before my eyes. I’m singing, and that’s it. I opened my eyes again. I couldn’t ignore it. Suffering affects me, beyond all the rules and regulations I’ve set in my mind. Seeing pain still moves me, even to tears.
We do not mourn as those who have no hope, but we do mourn. We have loved. We have lost. Even with our hope, we still know pain. We are not overcome with grief. For those we love, time has stopped, and that means their suffering has stopped; their pain has stopped, and our momentary loss is nothing compared to the security of knowing that they are resting. Resting in peace.
Just a few days ago, as my wife and I were reading through a narrative, by one of my favorite authors, on the labors of the disciples of Christ after His resurrection. The author made a resounding point, as illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul, that we, as followers of Christ, have “severe trials, as had (our) Master; but (we do) not allow affliction to sour (our) temper or destroy (our) peace of mind.” Thus, even as our loved ones, sleep in the dust, resting in peace, awaiting the call of the Lord Himself on a glorious morning yet to be, we too can and must rest in peace. We rest in a peace of mind, knowing that we can bear anything, endure anything, and overcome anything.
“These things I have spoken unto you,” said Jesus, “that in me you might have peace. In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
In memory of our grandfather, Santiago Norte Sr., our grandmother, Ada Jean Middleton, and our father, Santiago Norte Jr.