Living is a continual dying. We all just do the best we can.
My post “Funerals and other parties” about Gloria Zuelch offended a family member. I had run the draft past Gloria’s husband and her daughter Jessica and had their approval but another family member was deeply hurt by it and for her sake I pulled it.
My only desire in life is to please God and to do no harm. My progress with the former is pretty erratic and I seem to fail miserably at the latter. I have wounded or angered and driven away almost everyone in my life. Good intentions can’t make up for it. I just don’t know how to do it right.
I wanted to showcase joyous homegoings of God’s people because I have been crushed by so many losses over the past year or two–dozens–and especially by the deaths of three people I cared deeply about who did not seem to find healing or victory in this life.
My brother-in-law, soon after his ex-wife married another man, was found dead in a hotel room, full of cold medicine and Jack Daniels. He never met his first grandchild, nine days old, because he didn’t want to expose the baby to his cold. This quiet, kind, loyal servant-hearted man had battled drugs and alcohol all his life because, I’m convinced, he never believed he was unconditionally loved. The last thing he said to us, apologetically, was, “If you work the program, the program works.” No, it doesn’t. Work won’t buy you love. He needed to know he was loved whether he worked or not, whether he drank or not, that he didn’t have to be perfect to be accepted. And all the money his ex-wife poured into rehabs and treatment over the years to “fix” him could never substitute for that.
One close friend fought a fatal liver disease for five years and with it depression that spiraled her down into anger and bitterness, opening herself to demonic re-connections due to her past involvement with the occult. She’d curse nurses and others who tried to help her, may even have cursed God. Time and again we’d pray together and she’d soften and repent, break the curses, be reconciled to God, have peace. As she weakened, she went into a nursing home. Within a few months someone found her on the floor beside her bed. She was in a coma and died three days later.
A third, Sandra, was terribly broken emotionally. She had such a kind heart for those like herself who were poor and mentally ill. Just identifying with the pain of people impacted by 9/11 sank her into a depression which led her to take early retirement. In spite of every possible kind of abuse in childhood and in spite of lifelong depression, she loved the Lord and doggedly trusted in His goodness and ability to heal her. Every January He gave her a theme to study and meditate on for the year. Once it was “abiding in Christ.”
Then one year it was “the fatherhood of God” and she just couldn’t do it.
She felt “stuck” and fat and ashamed and often isolated herself in an apartment more disgusting than Tim’s. The toilet overhead leaked into her kitchen but she was afraid to tell the manager because he’d want to come in and see the damage. She wouldn’t even let me in the door. We met for breakfast on her birthday and sometimes sat in my car for hours afterwards, talking and praying, but otherwise only checked in on each other by phone twice a week for prayer.
A young man named Shawn lived with her, a man whose mother had committed suicide when he was nine–he came home one day and the paramedics wouldn’t let him in the house because of all the blood. The two of them isolated themselves from life together, symbiotic orphans. He couldn’t work because he was so restless; he spent his days walking around the city.
Toward the end of her life, Shawn told me, her journal was full of anguish, self-loathing and despair. Her sister in Kansas died and she had no money to go to the funeral–in fact, the sister’s friends buried her so fast there wasn’t time to go. After that Sandra let her blood sugar get completely out of control, didn’t renew her lithium, contracted pneumonia. Terrified to lose her, Shawn called the paramedics and had her taken to the hospital, where she developed a ubiquitous hospital staph infection and died a week later.
The last time I saw her, Shawn and I were leaning over her from opposite sides, trying almost desperately to affirm her and call her back–“I love you! I can’t live without you, Sandra! Don’t die!” he was sobbing–but she was unresponsive, although she was trying hard to raise her upper body. I was horrified to find both her hands–the hands of a person whose childhood was replete with brutal assaults and rapes–secured as tightly as a tourniquet to the hospital bed. I frantically unwrapped yards and yards of cloth to free her right hand so I could grasp it with the warmth of human touch.
My last memory of Sandra is of her straining forward, pushing against my grip with surprising strength, her eyes fixed unseeing on something beyond the foot of the bed.
I know these friends are healed now, and each of them experienced some healing during their lives. For instance one day when Sandra and I were praying in my car, she said a startled “Oh!” God had revealed to her the root cause of her bulimia. In the instant she realized she binged for the first time the day her uncle raped her–trying to vomit up the horror, disgust, and shame of that desecration–God healed the bulimia.
But I never felt final closure with any of these people. Do you see why I want to celebrate the homegoing of friends whose lives did end victoriously? Do you see why, without that, I want to remain hiddeninjesus?