My first encounter with death was on Christmas morning. My small five-year-old feet had padded past the Christmas tree, through our Californian ranch house, and out the back door and across the brick patio, only to burst into my grandpa’s small house on the property as he took his last breath. My parents, aunts, and uncles were crying in each other’s arms.
When we finally made our way back into the house, the beauty of the Christmas tree seemed more gray than colorful. My Grandpa had lived a long and good life. But his death seemed anything but good.
Death met up with us again a few years later when my Aunt went on a last vacation with the extended family, knowing she was losing the cancer battle. Her hair was growing back after treatment, her arm was in a sling, and she spent that time making memories with her children, siblings, and parents.
About five years after her death, I had my own cancer scare, complete with testing, doctors’ worried looks, and nurses whispering, “How sad, she’s so young.” It ended as a false alarm, but taught me the preciousness of life yet again. My mother had successful surgery for cancer a couple of years later, death again lurking around the corner, but not winning yet.
Five years after my cancer scare, I was in my first year of marriage when we lost our first-born daughter to a heart defect when she was two months old. I knew my life would never be the same.
Five years after that we are found at my mother-in-law’s death bed, tears running down our faces. She holds onto her youngest son as she is dying of cancer, far too young.
Death is a thief that steals the most precious gifts we have and the repercussions of death continue long after.
Death doesn’t just have a sting to it still. It is a blow to our very heart.
Circle of Life
Sometime after the death of my aunt, we watched Disney’s The Lion King, and the idea of the “circle of life” presented itself. I found it unsatisfying and unable to break the sorrow of death. The predictability of death and the decomposing of flesh to feed the grass to feed the animals that were eaten by other animals hardly gave comfort to my grieving heart.
The truth that struck a chord in my heart is that death is an enemy. In the final Harry Potter book, the gravestone of Harry’s parents is inscribed with, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”—a reference to 1 Corinthians 15:26. It’s a passage that talks about how all things will be made subject to Jesus Christ when he comes again, and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
The beauty of following a crucified savior is that he didn’t suffer death to simply join us in our defeat, but rather to defeat death itself for our sake.
On this cornerstone of our faith, we have grappled and fought against death, while still accepting our earthly limits, knowing that our days are ultimately numbered by God. We submit to the reality of death, while also viewing it not as a normal part of life, but rather an abnormal fracture of a broken world.
We endure death with hope, knowing that we follow someone who will ultimately save us from even this last evil enemy.