I’ve lost three people who’ve made an impression in my life in the month of August. Not the way I expected this month to go. They say these things happen in threes.
Even though I’m a Christian and should feel confident about death, sometimes I don’t. Doubt slips in. I fear it. Fear of the unknown. Fear I might not see loved ones again. While I want to believe, wholeheartedly, that I will be reunited with friends and family and will get to meet my creator, honestly, sometimes, I’m just not sure.
After hearing of each person’s passing, memories have popped in my head, without warning, as if they’re floating in the air, waiting for me to walk by and absorb them. What I remember most, when I think of them, is their faces with a smile. I love seeing people laugh. A friend on Facebook said he always remembers the laugh of friends and family who’ve died. I do, too.
I’ve had to explain what a funeral is to my daughter. It’s important to have those conversations with her, though it’s so hard to find the words for a three-year-old. I’ve heard a few psychologists talk about the importance of letting children experience funerals. Something about letting them see adults mourn is healthy for their emotional development. Not only does it help them understand their own mourning, but it also helps them know they’re not alone in their suffering.
Funerals are a strange thing. When the service is religious, the officiant sometimes glosses over mourning and focuses on the idea that the loved one who has passed is in heaven. And I get it. It’s comforting to think this. While what they say may be true, I’ve experienced how damaging it is to glaze over what some consider “negative” emotions. They always find a way to surface, and sometimes not positively. There is a goodness to mourning, a necessary emotion given to us.
Though funerals are sad, and no one wants to be there, they can be oddly comforting. Something about everyone coming together, grieving, thinking about this person who is no longer here. I’ll never forget the comfort I felt at my Dad’s funeral. My grandfather’s arm around me, squeezing harder when I began to cry. The presence of my family behind me, supporting my sister and me.
I don’t adhere to the common idea of heaven. A place in the sky with pearly gates, and streets paved with gold. I like the interpretation of the theologian N.T. Wright. In an article with Time, he states that at the end of time “Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.” God did not make this Earth to throw away. His creation is good, and he wants to restore it.
In the meantime, Wright argues (based on Biblical interpretation), “we enter an intermediate state.” Our spirits, or souls, whatever you want to call them, haven’t necessarily ascended to a different place. Those who have died are still here with us, waiting patiently, at peace.
Maybe these ideas are a little too radical for some. I find comfort in them. Especially when I have doubts about heaven, a place that seems too removed from our reality. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Wright is wrong. In the end, does it matter what our idea of heaven is? Maybe what is important is how we take care of now and listen.
Justa Lanie Garrett is a lifelong resident of Baytown.