Hello Beloved --
One week ago, September 26, 2021 was a day that will forever be etched in my mind. Just twenty minutes before service began, Shalla texted me to pray for Kairo Mensah as she was being rushed to the hospital. She was not breathing on her own. I gathered a couple of small teams to intercede and plead with God for her lungs to begin working properly. Our cries were deep and sincere. We could not have expected to hear that within the hour, Kairo was gone.
There is no playbook available to face death. There is no established itinerary or lesson plan that applies to the intensity that comes with it; grief. This is one area that no one can claim they’ve successfully mourned over a loved one. It is also an area in which none of us can fail.
Grief is not like a seasonal cold that you will eventually get over. The best way forward, perhaps the only way, is to integrate our losses with our being in the world; our work and play, our family and friends, our faith and spirituality. As we grow with our grief, we discover a new center or compass guiding our way.
To be clear, death is a robbery. It is a theft of physical touch and of future hopes. It leaves behind a mess of questions, insecurities, and distrust. Death feels like a limb has been cut off of your body, yet you’re expected to function in the world as if it is still there. The reality is that we are never the same after such traumatic experiences. Because death and grief awakens our fears.
Grief is common to all of us, regardless of our religious orientation or spiritual beliefs. That we believe in Christ and share in Christian community is not some kind of upper hand or cheat code against those who don’t profess faith in Jesus.
In times like these, people (including Christians) repeat unhelpful, even harmful, phrases such as: She’s in a better place, God needed another angel, You’ll get over this, I understand how you feel, All things happen for a reason, Be strong, and so on. These are empty platitudes seeking to avoid the pain of grief.
Our beliefs certainly shape our worldview and In Christ we don’t grieve as the world does, but we do grieve. Each of us has our own spiritual and emotional journey through grief and loss.
Kairo’s transition from this life into the life to come, raises awareness to our feelings and beliefs about death. For some of us it brings up past experiences of losing parents and grandparents. For others it brings up the loss of a child or a sibling. Personally, I’m taken back to 2015 when my father died of lung cancer. When we hear the news, we remember those experiences. Our hearts sink. Our souls burst.
To cope with the loss, we get busy or shut down. We turn to gospel music or classic hip hop. We clench our fists or veg on T.V. We read the scriptures or a fantasy novel. Hopefully our coping isn't harmful to our souls.
Henri Nouwen says, “Real grief is not healed by time.” It would be false to believe the passing of time would result in a removal of pain. To say such a thing would diminish the value of life and underestimate the depth of grief and trivialize the practice of love. Time allows us to become more aware of who our loved one is for us and the experience of love we were able to receive.
For me, it is Kairo’s baptism that is fresh in my memory. Before the foundation of the world, God chose her and placed her into the arms of Andrew and Mandie, loving parents who gave her Jesus and Christian Community. Kairo was our beloved sister in Christ. In many ways she was like a niece to me and Shalla.
Is this letter from the pastor a consolation for you? Do you feel comforted or shepherded well?
I’m guessing that this message does not relieve you of shedding tears, questioning an untimely death, or lessen your grief. But as your pastor I do grieve with you. I want to comfort each of you and empathize with your suffering, but not in a way that glosses over pain and tucks away your wounds. I’m writing to you from the belief that a grief observed is the only grief well lived. When we express or expose our hurts, then we grow from them. Wounds that are kept hidden don’t fully heal.
Grieving is a spiritual practice, beloved -- one that is under-developed for most of us, and yet we are offered multiple opportunities to learn from it. Death, like birth, is a holy experience. Grieving our losses expands our capacity to suffer well and the ability to suffer with one another.
Below are a few practices to consider as you journey through grief:
My prayer for all of us is that no one ever grieves alone. It has been strikingly evident that Sanctuary is indeed a framily to one another. You have surrounded the Mensahs and those who’ve provided the closest care with a tangible love that is beyond comprehension. You have lamented, wailed, and sought the Lord together. You have cried and comforted each other.
Thank you for being church.
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." -- Amen
* For further thoughts on grief, read the sermon manuscript on Grieving a Loss, preached March 2018 in the series, The Silence and Solitude of Jesus. Sorry that I don’t have a recording of the audio message.