Do you know what happens when a good friend dies? All sorts of things. In the first 24 hours I had broken my coffee machine, smashed my mobile phone, forgotten how to park, and set fire to toast. The place was thick with smoke and tears, and still smells a bit of charred bread and bad language.
I used to say to my late friend “Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” and she’s still doing it. I’m easily confused at the moment, so get ready for all sorts of mistakes and gaffes – I’ve just had an email from a bloke pointing out that I used the word ‘internment’ instead of ‘interment’ in an email about the funeral. Hah! Pernickety snickerty. But on the same day, I’ve been sent a lovely armful of flowers and in the last little while all sorts of friends have popped in, stayed for a chat, sharing memories of our lost pal and they didn’t correct my grammar. Our pastor says ‘It’s better to be kind than to be right.” and there’s a lot of kindness around just now – a lot. We can put up with a little thoughtlessness. Yes, you can Luce.
When Jane (why be coy avoiding names?) was so very ill, she liked us to read the Bible to her. I usually chose either the Gospels or the Psalms, because these were familiar and loved. Over and over again (12 times I think) the Psalmist asks ‘How long, Lord?’
Sometimes he was asking how long must he wait for God, for peace, for his enemies to be overthrown, for God’s mercy, for justice… How long? How long? And Jane would ask that too, in her prayers as she longed for release from this world and entry into God’s peace, ‘How long, Lord?’
There are many other Biblical references to waiting, to patience, to asking, and they all seem open and honest, speaking to God without pretence, admitting need, vulnerability, our desperate dependance, but always confessing our human exasperation. If we are impatient and exasperated, God knows it. Who are we kidding when we say all the right words, with churning stomachs and rebellious hearts? We’re certainly not fooling God. The Psalmist is honest and I love him for that.
One of my favourite Psalms is Psalm 40 and it starts off:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.”
and the first few hundred times I read those words I barely noticed the space between the lines. ‘The space between the lines’? Well, sitting at Jane’s bedside, long days of waiting on God, I noticed that there is no time scale in that nano-story. In those two lines there is David’s patience and there is God’s ‘turning’ but we have no idea how long that patience was needed. The gap between the printed lines… double spacing or single…. was it a month, a year, twelve years? We don’t know. We can look at David’s life, all those towering heights and all those plummeting depths and wonder, but that’s all we can do. And then I realised that time isn’t the issue, we’re the issue, our love and patience, trust and expectancy and submission. If we get them right, or a bit righter, time falls away (Oh, grammar chum, what would you make of that? You would be distressed bigly). I realised that timing isn’t our problem. It’s God’s gift.
And now Jane has gone. Her time in this world has run its course. I woke last night remembering that I hadn’t rubbed cream into her feet that day, worrying that they would be painful, forgetting for a tiny moment that she’s safely home where there is no pain. When I remembered… a tiny stab of loss but a flood of relief. She’s OK, my friend is OK. The time for pain has gone, patience has been rewarded, and in eternity there is only joy. James tells us “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” which would be quite a glum sort of thought were it not for other verses like
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die’ John 11:25
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
And one of Jane’s favourites: Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23:6
I discovered anew, on the day Jane died, that sometimes God steps into our time scale and works a miracle of timing – this isn’t an airy fairy theory or wishful thinking. I know it to be true; two hours after Jane died I came home and sat at my table, disoriented, tired and sad. I wondered what I would do with the rest of the empty day. You know the sort of tiredness and sadness that makes you feel a bit sick? Grey and sick. And then a dear dear friend came and we talked for an hour or more, not just about Jane but all sorts of things – youngsters, social media, our town, our church, all sorts, and we smiled at the memory of Jane who in life had made us smile often. And he prayed and it was lovely. Then I had an email telling me that family is coming for two weeks in the Summer, and then another friend called in – not knowing about Jane – and we prayed too and talked and drank coffee. Then a phone call, news that my radio play will be recorded in August and a lively long chat with the director…. and that’s not all.. lo and behold, another dear friend popped in (also not knowing about Jane) and then a neighbour…. and there we were;
“Captain’s log, Stardate 10072019.19. Our destination? Planet eternity…”
It was seven o clock on a lovely summer’s evening and all was well with the world.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you for friendship and for Jane.
If you’re reading this, watching someone you love as they die, or if you’re grieving a loss, take heart. It’s good to be a mist, it’s good to be grass that withers, it’s a process, the process we were created for, complete and wonderful when we leave this world to enter eternity. All will be well, and all will be well. In grief we blunder and sob, and break coffee machines and smash mobile phones, and misspell words, but in eternity ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
Let me tell you something to make you smile – I’m growing quite deaf and hearing aids so far haven’t helped. I try hard to concentrate and lip read but I have a vivid imagination and sometimes fill in the gaps with words that weren’t said, to my granddaughter’s obvious delight and hilarity. After one mammoth misunderstanding (and much merriment) I said that my conversation must be tedious when I keep asking for things to be repeated, so sometimes I pretend to have heard when I haven’t got a clue. I even said that I might give the latest sort of hearing aid a try, although I really really don’t want to. My granddaughter said “Oh, no, Nana, don’t get a hearing aid… it’s so iconic when you can’t hear what anyone’s saying.”
At last, I’m an icon!