“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”—Henri Nouwen
Such an unwanted guest is death. We spend so much time not thinking about it that it dominates much of our consciousness even though it is just out of sight of our souls. We cover it with flowers at funerals, use euphemisms like, “Passed away. Went to heaven. Is no longer with us. Gone on to be with the Lord.” We just can’t seem to face the truth that someone we love has died. It is almost as if death is in the ether of this world. Like a shadow that follows us around even on cloudy days.
Yesterday death came to my family.
I was sitting in the only chair in the Extended Stay that has been our home for the last 3 weeks. Caleb was still asleep. I had a cup of coffee and my wife Lynette was just stirring and thinking about getting ready to go to school. We heard her cell phone vibrate and she answered it. I could tell she was speaking to her sister and it was not good news. Death was entering our room through the phone.
She hung up, turned to me and said, “Suzanne died this morning.” Silence lingered for a moment. Then I saw her shoulders slump and heard her gasp for a breath and then the tears came.
I said, “Come here.” She came over and sat on my lap and I held her for a long time while she wept.
The thing about knowing someone from their youth to death at age 39 is that you get to see their growth. When I first met Suzanne she was a light-hearted teenager with very few concerns. She was a wholesome girl but in some ways overshadowed by her younger sister who was a stage performer and quite outgoing. But Greg, my brother-in-law, saw something in her that captured his heart and he asked her out. They fell in love.
In time I had the privilege to officiate at their wedding.
Somewhere in the journey, Suzanne became a serious Christ-follower and a lover of women. Women flocked to her. The singular most successful ministry I have ever been associated with was the women’s ministry at a church in Colorado. The Lord anointed Suzanne’s work and with the help of capable women, the ministry really outgrew our fellowship. I had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with it.
It was clear that God had his hand on Suzanne.
She served on a Leadership Ministry Team in the church and would from time-to-time ask the most annoying questions of me. Questions like, “Joe, how is your personal quiet time with Jesus? Who have you talked to about Jesus that doesn’t go to this Church? Does Lynette feel loved by you? What are you doing with your boys that are showing them that they are more important to you than the church?”
See what I mean? They were very annoying questions.
I never told her how annoying she was to me with those questions. But I found myself avoiding her. The Holy Spirit took those words used them as iodine on a scabbed soul. They brought pain and healing at the same time. She showed a lot of courage to ask those questions of her pastor and brother-in-law. I didn’t like it then, but I respected it.
In all my years of knowing her, I never heard anyone say a negative thing about her. I don’t ever remember knowing anyone who didn’t like Suzanne. I am not saying she was sinless, but she had a winsome quality about her that caused folks to be drawn to her.
When our boys were very small they couldn’t pronounce “Aunt Suzanne” so she came up with an easier name for them to call her. She said, “Why don’t you call me Aunt George?” It stuck. Until they were in their teenage years, they called her by that name. I never stopped calling her Aunt George. I’m not sure she liked it. She might have wished I had outgrown it too. But giving our children an easier name to pronounce says much about her. I think it says she wanted the “least of us” to feel accessible to her. Who does that remind you of?
People are hurting in Kentucky, Colorado and Washington and places I don’t even know about. Death has touched the lives left here to grieve her death. Heaven is dancing but earth is weeping.
What do we do? We find someone to hold us and let us weep while she dances with Jesus.
“…weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the mourning.” Psalm 30:5