Nearly a decade ago one of my brothers-in-law died suddenly at his desk while at work. He'd just had a routine medical examination which declared him in good health for a guy in his later 50's and he was active. But his father had died young due to heart issues and seemingly heredity caught up with him.
Needless to say, my sister-in-law was stunned, as were their two teen children. His death made no sense and there was no actual goodbye, even though there was a meaningful farewell service with lots of people in attendance. As people of deep Christian faith the family affirmed their shared resurrection hope but he was gone, and where was the consolation?
After a time I gave my sister-in-law a copy of Joan Didion's grief memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. It is about this exceptional writer's experience of losing Dominic Dunne, her husband of many years, when he collapsed and died at the dinner table. They had been to see their adult daughter who was inexplicably gravely ill in hospital and in a coma. Didion introduces her book by saying:
This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends.
The title of The Year of Magical Thinking is a powerful statement in itself about the myriad ways life changes because of grief. She wrote that despite the kindness and company of others she wanted to be alone, so he would come back.
Joan Didion died of Parkinson's disease just before Christmas at the age of 87. I've yet to rummage around and find my copy of the book but I will.
I wish I could express confidence that because of regular exposure to loss as a minister as well as the deaths of parents and other family members that I am prepared for the losses yet to come. I don't think I am. I will continue to do my best to affirm that:
In life, in death, in life beyond death
God is with us. We are not alone.