He took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in fine cloth. Then he put it in a tomb that had been cut out of solid rock and had never been used.
~ Luke 25:53
In my junior year in college, a close friend of mine died from a rare form of cancer. Suzie and I were "those friends" who loved to laugh, go out to eat, and enjoy concerts together. I remember one concert where I dressed up in a black and white zoot suit. Suzie wore a beautiful black and white polka dot dress and a pill-box hat, with white gloves, to attend a Manhattan Transfer concert at the Indiana University Auditorium. We laughed and danced, posed for pictures, and didn't want the night to end. She had undergone successful surgery where doctors at IU had already opened her chest, removed the tumor that reached from her lungs to her heart. She was proud of the scar that started just at the base of her neck. She would point it out, and tell everyone, "and they filmed the whole surgery. I'm famous."
I wasn't there the day that she died. When she woke up and called her mother, telling her that she "couldn't breathe," and they rushed her to the IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. Her mother telling me her last words, "We have to learn to walk on our tippy-toes," while laughing.
Only Suzie would leave this world with child-like instructions.
She died about five am and her mother called me at 6 am. I was scheduled to be at work at 7:30 am, and I got up and got dressed. I remember pulling out of my driveway, looking at the sky, thinking of the words her mother had shared with me, and the tears flowed as the radio played James Taylor's "Fire and Rain."
"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone. Susanne the plans they made put an end to you..."
I had to pull my car over to the side of the road. I couldn't breathe. The grief overwhelmed me and by the time I arrived to work my eyes were swollen from the tears and I could hardly talk. I just couldn't imagine that this day would not include her. I wouldn't hear her voice, laughter, or feel her hand holding mine ever again.
The Saturday following Good Friday, I try to look at the sky and think of her words now. I've lived thirty-five of those Saturdays since Suzie discovered heaven. I can still encounter those emotions, and recall the words of Taylor's song as I see her in my mind.
It makes me wonder if Jesus' mother remembered the words she sang the day she was told that she would "bear a child." The Biblical celebration that we all call, "Mary's Song," must have had another version for the day after he died. I am drawn to ask her, "How are you doing today?"
We all fail so miserably at times to know what to say when someone has died.
While Jesus would be the first to repeat that this was all, "God's plan," it simply doesn't work when we have lost someone that we love dearly, and frankly, only Jesus is the one who should ever be allowed to use these words. We never know the plans that God has for us. Only God does. Granted we assist the journey with our own decisions and choices, but ultimately, as I share with so many of my hospice families when they ask, "How much longer," do I ever say anything other than, "Only God knows."
I often remind people that if they don't know what to say to a person who has just lost someone, then don't say anything at all. We forget that silence is the strongest form of communication, and holding someone's hand, or just sitting with someone, can be more healing than words that a person later asks, "Why did you say that?"
The day for the disciples had to have been filled with so many, "What if's?"
"What if we had just locked the door so that Judas couldn't have left?"
"What it we had only listened and asked more questions?"
"What if we had refused to get that colt?"
It was too late. Jesus was dead, and now laying in a tomb. It was the Sabbath, and people rested.
You have to wonder about those who were in the crowd? Were they remorseful for allowing themselves to be manipulated to cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus, rather than allowing for one who had killed another person to be put to death? Did they think of Jesus' mother, who watched as her son was barbarically nailed to a wooden cross and placed on display? Did they think of their words?
I call the families of my hospice patients within a day or two after the person has died, if I wasn't present for the person's death. So many times those conversations can be filled with moments of silence. Opening up the time for the family member to share how they are feeling, or simply to allow them to know that someone was still present to listen.
I have no idea of what I would even begin to say to Mary, or to John who is now tasked with caring for her. Anywhere she will go, unlike Peter who denied knowing him, she will be known as "that man's mother."
The day after Good Friday, I always think of Suzie, but also of her parents who are now both deceased. Of those who mourn, and of my own losses. I can't even begin to think of tomorrow, because the pain is present, and in many ways I want to hold onto it because it reminds me that I still "feel something," about the experience.
It's a day that is necessary for the church. A day where altars are empty. Where a "Hallelujah" is not spoken, and the eucharist rests.
It's a day that we should be reminded that we don't always have the words to say, and that it is, "Okay."
Where we are allowed to have tears without reason, and simply to be numb to the world, especially during the times of isolation that we are now being asked to live in because of this "virus." Instead of filling our day with "things," we are being invited to enter into a deeper place. A place where the love of God exists. A place where we rest and reflect. A place where God simply holds us in God's grip.
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.