I don’t cope with grief very well. I remember the death of a man I knew well.
Tom was a good friend to me. Thirty years my senior, he was more like an uncle than a parishioner. He kept open the little church where he and his wife and a small number of others worshipped Sunday by Sunday. Tom always smiled, always laughed; always had an encouraging word.
Tom became ill and had to go to hospital, he wasn’t pleased to leave his little village, but he took everything with the same good cheer. But then we had good news, Tom was getting better. The day he was told that the tests were clear, he waltzed his wife around the hospital ward. A few days after the good news, Tom died. It was a cold, bleak winter’s Saturday evening and Tom was the second of my parishioners to die that day. I drove back through the Ulster countryside feeling numb. There was no time for feeling sad, it was Sunday the next day and the show would go on. Tom’s loss was a bitter blow, but clergymen aren’t allowed tears.
Tom’s funeral took place on a bright, chilly Tuesday afternoon in the little church he loved so much. There was not space for the community that gathered to bid him farewell. Tom had a daughter in her 20s, bright, articulate and pretty, she was her parents pride and joy, getting to college and becoming a teacher. She took Tom’s death with a gentle grace and asked to read at the funeral, choosing the passage from Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything”. I buried Tom close to the churchyard wall, a spot he had chosen for himself, laughing when he showed me it. Neither he nor I could have suspected that the grave would be opened so soon.
Sometimes I wonder how people cope with what they have to go through. I find it hard to imagine even a fraction of the pain that some people face. Years later, and I still shed a tear for my friend Tom, how many tears have been shed by those of us who have been through tragedies?
I don’t cope well with grief and I don’t think I would cope have coped if I had been in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday; I would have been the slowest of all to understand that Jesus must rise again from the dead.
Easter is about understanding that Jesus rises again again from the dead; it’s about life and it’s about hope. It’s about Jesus destroying the power of death and hell. It’s about believing we will see all those whom we loved in a world where there is no more death or pain or crying anymore.
I look forward to seeing Tom.