My brother had esophageal cancer which caused him to be unable to swallow thus requiring a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. He had fluid on his heart that made it difficult to breathe. They tested the fluid that surrounded his heart and it was full of a different kind of cancer cells than the esophageal cancer cells. When the second cancer was discovered, since he had gotten to below 120 lbs. it was determined that he would go on hospice care. Hospice care means no more treatment, just comfort care. My brother was dying.
I said my goodbyes and had a sweet conversation that I pray will never leave my head. His wife and his siblings took turns sitting with him night after night. I live in a different state so I did not have the blessing of sitting with him as they did. Each morning I woke up expecting a message on my phone that he had died. Night after night they watched him sleep without food, and eventually water. Morning after morning I checked my phone for the message. It was a waiting game. Part of me wanted the good Lord to take him since there was no possibility of recovery. Part of me wanted him to stay present in that bed for as long as possible, knowing that his hand could still be held, he could still be told how much he was loved.
Sunday morning, Father’s Day, the message came. He died in the night.
Phone calls were made to all of the siblings, checking in, crying together. That afternoon I sat more quietly than usual and went to bed early.
Monday. I’ve never been hit by a Mack truck but that was the only way I could describe how I felt. Physically, I felt like a lead brick. I did not have the energy to raise my arm. I got up to get a coffee at some time in the morning but it felt as though I was walking through waist-high mud to get there. Back in bed, with the full cup of coffee on my nightstand until it grew cold, I stared at the ceiling and cried. Sometime in the afternoon I let my walking partner know that I would not make it to walk because my brother died the day before. I was incapable to even entertain the thought of walking our 3 mile path.
I was grieving!
Typically, I would not describe myself as an extremely emotional person so the fact that I was experiencing grief at all was interesting. I had known for a while that my brother was going to die. I was prepared. We had had our last goodbye conversation. He knew how much he meant to me. I was ready. But, grief showed up anyway. And it showed up in a big way. It showed up with a mind of its own.
I was shocked. As I laid in that bed I had a sort of out-of-body experience. I observed my own self in my grief, noticing the physical manifestations and the mental blankness.
“Hmm.” I thought, “So, this is what grief is. Interesting.”
I now know that when someone is in grief, they cannot be told that “they should be over it by now,” or “it’s time to move on.” Grief is physical. It would be like telling them that their broken leg should have mended by now. They will recover when they recover. They need the freedom to heal at their own bodies’ pace. That was a good lesson for me.
The other thing that I thought about was this: Our bodies were not created to die.
Death is unnatural to us. God created us to live eternally with Him. The devil came and inserted death into our story. Death is the wage of sin. Death is the ultimate evil inflicted upon God’s loved ones. Death is trauma. Experiencing death is traumatic to us, spiritually, mentally and physically. The effect of that trauma is grief.
The more important thing I thought about all of this is that the eternal God, who has always and will always live, who is Life itself, came into our realm to become a man-in order to die. Jesus died. Jesus came here to take on that ultimate evil inflicted on us by the devil himself, to consume it for us. Then, having consumed it, He was victorious over it! Taking the finality of the sting away from us. He conquered death for us by taking it on.
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:9)
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:5)