Embracing Death

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I really enjoy personality tests, whether it be the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Enneagram, or identifying yourself with a color; for the record, I’m a textbook ENFP (Extroverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceptive), an Enneagram 7 (the Enthusiast), and an Orange. I think my fascination with them stems from some of the identity work that I’ve already talked about during this season. As someone who has previously experienced difficulty unpacking exactly who I am and then accepting who I am. These ways of looking at who we are give me tangible words to describe myself and how I relate to the world. These systematic labels make me feel known and help me to identify my weaknesses and strengths so I can live further into who I was created to be. Working with any of these systems affirms and challenges me to reflect on how I respond to the world.

I was chatting with one of my colleagues last week about this unprecedented time in our world and my frustrations. Things feel utterly out of control sometimes. I’ve grown frustrated with those who seem like they are being reckless with guidelines of physical distancing. Some people seem to not care about their own safety other others. I can’t control their behavior. I can only control mine. There is such a deep truth in that. No matter the situation, all we can really control in this life is our response. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the choice, each and every day, to do something, or not.

One of the things those aforementioned personality tests reveal to me is that I tend to stray away from difficult emotions like sadness or grief. During this public health crisis, grief is unavoidable. Since I first started preparing for this episode, the count of those who have not survived COVID-19 has doubled. We have not yet seen the apex of this trajectory. It will get worse, possibly much much worse. Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone could die from this disease. I don’t mention this to be an alarmist, or invite fear, but rather to name that grief is going to be the new normal for a while.

Grief is our natural response to death. We’ve already been experiencing it. Each and every day we grieve the loss of human contact. I am lucky to be isolating at home with my husband and son, yet, as an extrovert, I crave the energy-giving connection of being around groups of people. I miss seeing all of my Sacred Place family in person each week. Our culture tends to sequester death to the hidden parts of us, covering it with platitudes like “Everything will be all right” or “So and so is in a better place,” and things like that. To put it bluntly though, death sucks. It hurts. It feels terrible for a long time. Yet, it is unavoidable. Would we not do better if we learned to normalize death in a way to learn and grow from it? What if we learned to recognize those little deaths that we experience all the time?

When I accepted that I was gay, I also had to accept the death of a dream of having genetic offspring. Yes, there’s always surrogacy, but that’s expensive and seems unnecessary for me when there are so many kids who need homes. I wouldn’t change a thing about how things have worked out. I have an amazing 2-year-old son who I love more than I knew was possible. Yet, there was a season of grief years before he arrived. There is also the grief of knowing he’ll never meet either of my grandpas who died before he was born. Though I have dealt with their deaths, there are moments that pop up where I miss them all over again.

We have all experienced these kinds of deaths: death of someone who we cherish, no matter how long ago they left us…death of a dream of something which just cannot be…death of the hope that things would turn out differently…death of a relationship which was important to us. We cannot escape our eventual fate. As we enter Holy Week, we will again remember the death of Jesus. Though we are people of the resurrection, this week is important by allowing us to dwell in the death and the grief. It was days before Jesus experienced resurrection. For his disciples, both the Twelve and those who called him friend and teacher, this was a real, difficult time. Just like in the story of Lazarus, where Martha, Mary, and even Jesus himself are overcome with sadness at his death even though Jesus was there to restore his life.

Accepting death as unavoidable and allowing ourselves to experience the grief which accompanies death is an important part of life. Grief changes us in ways we cannot expect. It allows us to move through the pain of the loss we have experienced and move into a new normal. Yes, things will never be the same again, but the ways in which we grow as a result of grief are that which create within us the space for new life to even be possible. Without death, there is no resurrection. This is good news.

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