An Empty Place
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Death is a strange thing. It is defined as a separation, the soul being separated from the body. But in the midst of death it seems far more relational – a separation of spirit from earth, of spirit from other spirits. In my hopeful context it is a simple thing to say that the one lost is in a better place, yet those who lose are left in a far worse place. But would we have it any other way?
It seems a short year ago that I wrote about death when a student at school passed away in a car accident. And here I am again in the same situation.
Last week a friend died in a car accident on his way to a mission trip. He was one of the first friends I made who shared my major. We met at a retreat and from that time on sat next to each other in most of the classes we had together. He was an excellent friend, an excellent disciple, and an excellent whistler.
While I mourn this loss with my school and pray for his close friends and family who suffer most, never once have I wished, “If only I had not known him.” While I am forced to contemplate all of the morbidity of death and go before God and question this circumstance that has caused so much pain, I would never trade the pain for not knowing this friend.
It doesn’t make it easier to cope with – perhaps it makes it harder to know that these are wounds that may never heal or scars that will never fade. Perhaps time cannot heal, but is able to transform. Perhaps this empty place that so quickly fills with bitterness, resentment, fear, doubt, and pain can be emptied through gratitude for the time we had, the moments we shared, the blessings we were granted. There is indeed a silent joy in the midst of loss, and if there weren’t there would be no suffering for the loss. There is no mourning one who offered nothing to miss.
The empty seat in my class will not be filled. The friend that who greeted me every morning will not be replaced. My friend’s memory of being in the car with him will not fade. The doubts that rise in our hearts and minds will not be simply pacified.
Yet there is praise.
I praise God for the people in my life that I do not want to lose. I praise God for the people that are worth mourning. I praise God for the memory of those that I have lost that made such an impact on my life. I praise God for the empty place that reminds me of their wise words, their love, their friendship, their example, and my experiences with them. I praise God for allowing me to place my doubts, my fears, my confusion, and my bitterness at his feet. Most of all – I praise God for giving us the opportunity to ultimately be in his presence together with those that have gone before us.