This week-end, I was looking through Facebook, and noticed that the brother of one of my friends had suddenly died of a heart attack. No notice, it just happened. And it was up to my friend Randy to tell his parents that his brother Gary, their other son, had died. He expressed that he had never had to do something so difficult as tell his parents, “He’s gone.”
Then Sunday morning, I was in a meeting with a business client of mine and he asked for some information about a particular career transition group that meets on Monday evenings. I told him I would contact an acquaintance and get the requested info. Anyway, as I made the call, I found out that a person who had spoken with me about career transition had become despondent, then started a number of disputes with his wife, finally winding up in jail and with a restraining order. Apparently, several days ago, he committed suicide. Another tragedy as a result of a lost job.
You would think this would be enough, but no, there’s more. I was speaking with our accountant, a friend of mine, this evening, and he let me know that the father of one of his co-workers had passed away last night in Oak Lawn, a far southside Chicago suburb. The wake and funeral will be held in Beverly Hills, at the Donnellan Funeral Home at 105th and Western Avenue, 5 blocks down the road from where I grew up. Aside from the connection to Beverly Hills, I know Al’s co-worker, Barb, and have worked with her for almost as long as I have worked with Al. Although I didn’t know Barb’s father, my heart goes out to their family as well. He was 91 and apparently lived a good, long life. But nonetheless, his passing was unexpected after he was making good progress from a surgery last week until his kidneys failed on Sunday evening.
But then, another straw, the thing that caused me to write this post this evening. While I was on the website looking up the funeral information, a list popped up of all the services that are being held in the funeral home during the next several days and there, right next to Barb’s father’s obituary, there was the notice for a woman who was well known throughout Beverly Hills when Janet and I were growing up. Apparently, she just died and the service for her will be on Dec. 20th. Her name was Mrs. Myra Simonson and her family lived down the street from Janet on Hamilton Avenue. I knew her son when I was in grammar school and Nancy, my mother-in-law, played bridge with her on Mondays.
In fact, Mrs. Simonson also worked at the church where Janet and I grew up. We were both baptized and confirmed in that church. In fact, our wedding was held there, as was the wedding of my parents a generation earlier. And when we finally could afford to buy a piano, we purchased it from Mr. Simonson, who came and tuned it in our home after it was delivered. I remember it so vividly. And tonight, when I read the obituary, I found out that Mr. Simonson has pre-deceased his wife. I never knew that.
The whole thing struck me as a little sad. So many memories of the old neighborhood all came flooding back as I saw Mrs. Simonson’s picture on the funeral home site. When I saw her birthday, April 5, 1923, I realized that she was born one day after my father; and that brought back its own set of memories of growing up in Beverly – at a time when life was more carefree and we never thought about end of life stuff…..
So, as you can tell, it has been a tough couple of days. But it all kind of crept up on me. And even though, as a pastor, I have conducted a number of funerals, as well as weddings, I don’t know that I ever get used to the idea of people passing on. From a theological point, I know that they are in heaven, a better place, but life certainly changes here on earth; and families sometimes don’t get too much comfort from the immediate loss.
My friend Randy is already celebrating his brother’s arrival in heaven, but he also has spoken about the hole in his heart left by the departure of his brother. The suicide victim left a wife and family behind, and his kids will forever deal with the self-inflicted death of a person they loved – their Dad. No matter how old you are, the death of a parent always affects a person, and tonight, Barb is dealing with the loss of her Dad. Finally, I am sure that an entire community is mourning the loss of Mrs. Simonson.
So what do we do with all this, especially at this time of year? The holidays are particularly emotional and even though personal loss is difficult at any time, it is even tougher as Christmas approaches. And for believers there is a strange juxtaposition of death replaced by eternal life with God in heaven. Paul tried to teach us about eternal life in 1 Corinthians. He told us in 1 Cor. 15:53-55, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Most of us have heard this famous verse throughout the years. It means that Jesus conquered death, and so can we. For when we physically die, we become something else, something magnificent with God. My encouragement tonight is that God has a better plan for those who believe in Him. While it may seem difficult for us at the time of loss, there is a promise that God has made it possible for us to spend eternity with him. My prayer is that you will pray for those left behind and ask for God’s healing power and grace will upon the families of those who have lost loved ones this holiday season. And all God’s people said, “Amen…..”