A sealed ‘Thank You’ letter rests idly on my desk. Its stamped, addressed and ready to be sent, but the recipient can no longer be reached. Anywhere. So, there it remains, staring up at me as I painfully stare back through tears. I don’t have the courage to open it and re-read the message intended for my newly sainted friend; and I certainly can’t seem to discard it. If I hold it up to the light, I can make out the last line through the somewhat transparent envelope, which reads, “…I couldn’t imagine doing this as well without you.” The message was intended to thank my friend, Greg Huston, for his role in the cook-off at St. Crispin’s last month. I meant what I wrote—that I couldn’t imagine the cook-off and all the other things we do so well, without his help—and I have no idea how long it will take to quell the storm in my heart as I think about his untimely death; the devastation it wreaks on his wife and young daughter; and the chasm left in its wake. Ministry within the Diocese will seem lesser for a little while without Greg, and I never thought I’d have to say goodbye to someone my age, someone to whom I looked for levity and advice, AND someone so integral to the life of our Diocesan community. To someone who was taken too soon.
And now I’ll have to try.
The sudden loss of a loved one makes no sense. Initial shock and denial wanes in the first couple of days, giving way to unparalleled confusion, anger, and biting pain; yet, those are not the replacements for which we hope. I’d much rather remain in denial than deal with the fact that a little girl’s father and a good friend’s husband met an accidental end. That my own friend will no longer make me laugh or send inappropriate text messages when my college football team beats his.
But I cannot do that. And I know it.
My mind tells me that understanding isn’t necessary; those are the mysteries for greater beings to unravel in their due course, and perhaps they will be revealed to me when I come face to face with God. My heart tells me that this pain will not remain as potent as it is now, as it beats the following words in an inward Morse code, “Love your friends, love yourself, God loves you,” over and over again like a rhythmic reminder of hope for days to come. My soul wanders, wondering about what might have been if only ‘this’ or ‘that’ would’ve happened, then my friend would still be here.
These moments are the thin places that I desperately need. The ticks of the clock that echo like footsteps in my ears, reminding me that God is closer to me now than ever before, that all I need to do is be still and allow myself to be wrapped up in God’s hopeful arms. It is an easy thing to love God when life is beautiful; it is an altogether different sensation to allow love to seep through the brokenness of despair and direct it toward the one being that could’ve prevented all of this. Yet I find myself beginning to hope for grace and not for what might have been; I remind myself that I believe that God’s love is greater than death, a champion capable of defeating pain and grief. I hear whispers from the Holy Spirit reminding me that I am beloved; that Kate, Brigid, Jeff and the rest of his family are beloved. And even in death, Greg is beloved and has been raised to join the saints in glory, even if too soon.
I want you all to know how deeply I care for each of you. Time doesn’t permit me to be with you as much as I’d like; but you are all prayerfully considered each night, whether by individual name or as my church family. The letter sitting on my desk serves me now as a reminder that words of appreciation can never be said too often; and that we don’t always have the time we think we do to say them or to write them. If you are experiencing pain of loss, pain of loneliness, or pain of despair, I want to encourage you to reach out and speak that pain as I have done here. Together, and with God’s help, we can overcome anything. Together, we are strong. And when one of us is raised to God’s glory, the rest of us can find hope in each other’s eyes. I love you, dear ones; let it never be said that I didn’t remind you of that. Time is precious, let’s make ours worthy of being spent, just as Greg did. Love God, love each other, and while you’re at it, love yourselves.