Sep 23 2009
I have just a few more things I want to say about what I learned in Chicago at Chase’s funeral.
Music is Powerful
For the funeral, a friend of Alex and mine played a song he wrote about losing a loved one. At noon on Saturday, we arrived early at the church so he could soundcheck. Amidst row after row of empty pews, I sat in the sanctuary alone. The sound man wasn’t ready, so our friend began to play his guitar and sing his song acoustically.
It seemed the music triggered something. I immediately started crying. Tears of mourning feel contradictory. They’re the result of great pain but seem to bring calm and healing. I could feel the place beneath my heart calm – like someone put their hands inside me and said, “Shhhhhh,” in a gentle way, “it’s ok to cry.” I kept saying to myself, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” not wanting to really believe Chase was gone.
In 1 Samuel 15, Saul, the king of Israel, is rejected by God because of his wickedness. The Spirit of the Lord departs Saul and an evil spirit torments him. His servants suggest finding someone who can play the harp so that when the evil spirit comes, someone can play music that makes Saul feel better. One of the servants remembers a young boy he knows named David. So they call David to enter Saul’s service. And whenever the evil spirit “came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).
Music is outrageously powerful. It has the ability to help us heal. If one of your friends has a loved one die, think of a couple songs or albums you feel would help them – slow, somber songs that will match the tone of their soul. For most people, I learned music that’s too loud or too busy is too much. The grieving heart isn’t ready for Soundgarden. It needs garden sounds. Think of some music and then buy it for them (using the Gift this Song feature in iTunes is helpful).
Connections Are Quick
For the friends and family who gather for any period of time beyond the funeral, the connections and friendships are instant. I finally met a number of Alex’s friends and family he’d talked about for years. I’ll be friends with them for life. When people are mourning, the masks come off. We see each other as a bunch of vulnerable humans who are lost and need each other. If you’re concerned that you don’t know very many of your friend’s friends and family, don’t worry. You’ll be hugging them in very short order. There’s a bond you’ll form that is unexplainable – a bond that only shared suffering can produce. It’s like the bond Ruth formed with Naomi after both their husbands died.
Activities Are Therapeutic
If you’re comforting a friend, suggest going out to do things they like. Don’t push them too hard, but keep suggesting things. On various days in Chicago, we went to favorite restaurants, the beach, and to a Cubs game. Even swinging golf clubs in the front lawn was an event.
Table for Two, Game for Five
On the night we went to the Cubs game, we bought six tickets. Prior to leaving to go downtown, one of the guys canceled. We called about 10 people in Chicago to see if they wanted to join us. No one was available. We ended up with one unused ticket. The empty seat became symbolic – as if Chase really was with us. As they often say: gone, but not forgotten.
After someone you love dies, you’ll never be the same. Their bodily disappearance seems to take part of you with them. But the gifts of the grave are the innumerable ways you change. If you have photos from the days after you lost someone, look at them carefully. The somber expression on your face hides the reality. Those are some of the most violent photos of upheaval you own. Those were the days God was very tangibly making you a different person.
I honor Chase’s memory by saying, in truth, that my life is changed. I am a different person today than I was when I woke up on September 8, 2009. And I continue to be changed because of Chase – in what I’ve written in this series, in private ways I don’t want to share, and in unknown ways I cannot yet express. His death is bringing me life. I thank Jesus for the work He’s doing in me because of Chase and his family.
I love Alex. I still don’t know what to do. These have been days I wish had never come but days I will never forget. There must be better ones ahead – days of pictures with happy hearts and smiles and laughing on the golf course and dreams coming true. I’ve always believed in Alex – most especially now.
My final encouragement to you, dear reader: if your friend loses a loved one, do not hesitate to plant yourself close to them. These are sacred days. You will not regret one second you spend by their side. However imperfect or ill-equipped you may feel, imperfectly be their help. Just be there.