When I was ten years old, my big sister and her husband presented Mom and Dad with their first grandchild and my grandparents with their first great-grandchild, a little boy named Shane. Well, maybe not so little at well over ten pounds.
While we waited for him and his mother to be released from the hospital, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took his famous first step on its surface. I remember gazing up at the moon, fascinated to think there were people up there taking one giant leap for mankind. Still, the news paled in comparison to the new life that had been added to our family. I couldn’t wait to meet my nephew!
While all children are precious, a first grandchild holds a special place in a family’s heart. I thought he was the best thing since macaroni and cheese, and visited every chance I got. When my parents took a trip to the east coast and I got to stay at my sister’s to “help” care for Shane, I didn’t mind missing out on the road trip one bit.
That Christmas, Shane was showered with presents as each aunt, uncle, grandparent, and great-grandparent picked out something special for him. My gift was a bright orange inflatable Pluto dog—chosen no doubt because I liked it myself! All that gift-giving gradually dwindled of necessity as 13 more grandchildren eventually joined the family. Shane never knew how good he had it! But then again, he grew up to be an especially generous gift-giver himself, so who knows?
We never dreamed that 46 years later, we would find ourselves again gathering as a family around Shane—along with his wife and two sons—to express our love in a completely different way as he fought a swift and aggressive last battle this past November. You will rarely hear me swear, but I believe there are a few appropriate uses for the word “damn.” One of those is cancer. With aching hearts, our family assembled to ease Shane’s suffering in any way we could and to usher him from this life into the next with goodbyes and prayers and songs and hugs and tears; and then to bury his last remains, celebrate his life, and try to comfort the many broken hearts he left behind.
How is it that death is our only certainty, and yet the pain of it runs deeper than any other? If death is such an inevitable part of life, shouldn’t it be easier?
Could it be because we were designed to live forever? God’s original plan was not for us to die. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. Teenagers aren’t supposed to bury their dad. Grandmothers aren’t supposed to suffer the multiplied pain of losing a grandchild while also seeing their own child grieving. There’s really nothing “natural” about it.
And living forever would have been wonderful if this planet had retained its original design, too. Adam and Eve were created immortal. But once sin entered our world through their disobedience, immortality here would have been unbearable. Can you imagine? While there are many enjoyable things in this life to appreciate, let’s face it. Does anyone really want to live forever with the inevitable aches and pains, the suffering and destruction we see around us, with no relief in sight?
God in his mercy has spared us that. In a sense, death became a blessing. It allows us to complete our journey here and move on to what we were originally created for. Why it sometimes comes “too soon” in our human opinions will remain a mystery, but in I Corinthians 15, Paul explains it far better than I ever could and I encourage you to check it out for yourself. Bottom line? “Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.” (Verse 22)
Death sucks, there’s no getting around it. We need to grieve, there’s no getting around that either. But joy comes when we remember the final battle has already been won; the last enemy already defeated. In Revelation 3, John tells us “…God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
I can live with that. And so can you.