I can’t eat Jolly Ranchers anymore. It’s not because the hard candies are not delicious. It’s because I have a very specific memory of the last time I ate one.
It was 1998. I had just been violently ill in the restroom at the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. My uncle Fred pulled a green Jolly Rancher from his backpack and said, “Here, this will take the bad taste away.”
Fred had a way of taking bad tastes from any situation.
When I heard he had passed away on Thursday, I didn’t have any words. What can be said about someone who sparked life and joy into every circumstance he found himself in? What words are there to pay tribute to a rock in a community? To describe the impact he had on thousands of students who walked through the halls of Castle High School? To honor the husband and father he was and to express how much he meant to all of his family?
There aren’t any words.
And there aren’t enough words.
So, my hands click over these keys of my computer in an effort to remember a man who was so lovely and kind and thoughtful.
Facebook is full of stories of those he touched. It’s an incredible scroll.
My dad’s text messages and emails are full of outpourings from those who loved him and those who knew how amazing he was. Even in Colorado, my dad had met a man who knew Fred, was helped by him to take a trip to Japan, and on that trip, met his future wife.
The influence of a life cannot be memorialized adequately.
I’m a writer and a lover of the English language in large part to the influence of my Uncle Fred. Because I know not what else to do, I’ve taken pen to paper and swirled these thoughts here.
Because I’m grieving with everyone who knew this amazing person.
In the book, The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis, the great lion, Aslan, stoops down to lick the face of a suffering boy and says to him, “My son, I know, grief is great.”
My earliest memory of a grieving scene was watching a pastor place his hand on the shoulder of a grieving man and say, “Remember, we must sorrow not, as others who have no hope.”
I wondered what it meant not to sorrow. I wondered if it was my Christian duty not to grieve, as if I suddenly had no emotions. I wondered if I should pack away my heavy heart in the face of death and shoulder on, tearless.
It is not that we will not grieve. It is not that we do not cry, or stoop our shoulders, and clutch hands in solidarity. It is not that we do not wrestle with the questions of “Why” and “What now?”. It is not that we are stoic and formidable in the face of tragedy, as though our Lord Jesus Himself was not also human and wept at death’s tomb. Jesus stood in front of the grave of a loved one and showed deep emotion for the fact that death had stolen away life. He allowed Himself a moment to feel the pain that all of His children feel at a time of loss.
To grieve not is to snub our noses at God’s precious gift of life. To grieve not is to make a mockery of our faith, of redemption, and God’s everlasting compassion.
It is that we do not do these things without hope. We do them with firm, unshakable, unwavering faith in the goodness of Almighty God. Eyes clouded over with tears, we look up and see a future where somehow this all is made right. To a time coming when the Sovereign Lord wipes away all tears. To an everlasting kingdom where a King will renew and redeem all things. To a moment when we hug our beloved again, saying, “Oh how we missed you and love you.”
Fred would have wanted us to be hopeful somehow.
Until then, we sit and weep. We lock arms and show up for those still living. We hold space for the sadness.
Somehow we work out the sorrow by standing up to live another day. We defy sin and death and the grave because of resurrection life for us now and for the time to come.
The defiance of a faith-filled life and hope is what can make us rise up in the morning after the dark night.
Not that we do not grieve.
So, now do we.